According to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, cases of syphilis among local men who have sex with men are on the rise.
The PDPH study, entitled “Resurgence of Syphilis Among Men Who Have Sex With Men,” was first published this month in CHART, the department’s publication on under-reported public-health issues.
The study noted that syphilis diagnoses have more than quadrupled since 2005, from 208 to 925 last year. Of those cases, 61 percent were among men who have sex with men. Cases are also increasing at slower paces among women and men who have sex with women.
Men diagnosed in that population had a mean between five and nine sexual partners during the 12 months before their diagnosis. This number has not increased significantly as of 2014, according to the report.
The men frequently met their sex partners through mobile apps.
“These apps present a challenge for identifying and treating sexual partners of syphilis cases because the interaction is often anonymous and cannot be retraced,” the study notes.
The PDPH offered several recommendations for at-risk individuals and health-care providers. People can recognize the signs and symptoms of syphilis, which can include painless genital ulcers or rashes that begin on the trunk before covering the entire body. The department recommends seeking medical care if you suspect an infection or exposure to syphilis. Additionally, at-risk individuals should undergo regular testing, use condoms and limit their number of sexual partners.
For health-care providers, the PDPH recommends they regularly test high-risk individuals, increase surveillance of patients with rashes and sores and presumptively treat patients with genital ulcers or rashes on hands and feet.
According to the study, PDPH is using social media, mobile technology, dating apps and other strategies to reach people at risk for syphilis. Additionally, the department will advise the public about the “importance of syphilis testing and prevention.”
Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Caroline Johnson told PGN this week that attention from both the public and providers is needed to confront the issue.
“I think we are going to continue to see these increases over the next year but, with the public paying attention and health-care providers doing more screening and diagnosing with the cooperation of patients, we hope we can get the outbreak under control,” Johnson said.
Visit http://www.phila.gov/health/commissioner/chart.html for the full study.