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Gay and bisexual men account for almost half of all syphilis cases in Bexar County
QSanAntonio, August 22, 2014

Statistics released by the Texas Department of State Health Services reveal that gay and bisexual men in Bexar County account for almost half of all cases of syphilis reported in 2013.

The numbers released by the state show that men who have sex with men (MSM) in Bexar County account for 51 percent of cases of primary and secondary syphilis; 44 percent of early latent syphilis; 44 percent of syphilis of unknown latency; and 36 percent of late latency syphilis.

Even more alarming are Bexar County's statistics for HIV and AIDS. In those instances, gay and bisexual men represent 78 percent of all new HIV cases and 67 percent of all new AIDS cases.

In Bexar County's larger community, the rate of congenital syphilis is eight times higher that the 2012 national average and the highest among large urban areas in Texas.

“San Antonio's syphilis epidemic is now in its ninth year of continuous growth,” said Dr. Thomas Schlenker, director of Metro Health in a press release. “The 17 babies born with congenital syphilis in 2013 are exceeded only by the 18 babies born in 2012. Only a deeply committed collaboration between Metro Health and local health care practitioners can halt this terrible plague."

The syphilis statistics for gay and bisexual men in Bexar County reflect a national trend. The numbers for this demographic have more than doubled since the year 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2012, there were almost 9,000 cases of syphilis nationwide, and 84 percent of them were among gay and bisexual men.

From 2005 to 2013, the rates increased the most among men of all ages, races and ethnicities accounting for 91 percent of the 16,000 reported cases of syphilis nationwide in 2013.

Black men had the highest rates of infection but Hispanic and white men showed the largest increases.

"Gay and bisexual men need to be aware that syphilis is common in their communities," said Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the CDC's division of STD prevention. "We are encouraging these men that if they engage in high-risk behaviors -- lots of anonymous partners, using drugs that lead to high-risk behaviors -- they should be checked for syphilis every three months."

In San Antonio, syphilis testing is available at Metro Health's STD/HIV Clinic at 512 E. Highland, at the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, BEAT AIDS and other HIV service providers.