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Press Release
NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
Office of Communications
CONTACT: Sandra Mullin/Andrew Tucker
Thursday, September 26, 2002
(212) 788-5290
(877) 640-1347


NYC DOHMH Issues Preliminary 2002 Data on Syphilis from Case Control Study

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) today announced that reported cases of syphilis in New York City increased more than 50% in the first 6 months of 2002 compared to the same time period last year. Similar trends have been identified in other U.S. urban centers. More than 90% of recent cases have been in men, more than 80% of these men report having male sexual partners, and nearly half report HIV infection.

DOHMH works closely with providers who serve at-risk populations – particularly men who have sex with men (MSM) – to help them educate those they serve on risk reduction techniques and how to prevent the spread of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV and AIDS.

In the first 6 months of 2002, 202 cases of primary and secondary syphilis cases were reported to DOHMH, with 95% of cases among men. Of the 156 cases about whom DOHMH has information on sexual partners, 127 cases (81%) reported male sexual partners. 54 of the 127 (43%) MSM also had an HIV co-infection.

Susan Blank, MD, MPH, Assistant Commissioner of DOHMH's STD Control program and author of the report issued today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, "The ongoing resurgence of syphilis cases among MSM both nationally and in New York City is especially concerning because many of the men report unprotected sex with multiple, anonymous partners. Unsafe sex increases the risk of spread of HIV.

"Sexually active MSM should get tested and determine their STD and HIV status, avoid one-time, anonymous sexual contacts, and always use a condom," Dr. Blank continued. "We are working intensively with community based organizations and City medical providers to ensure prevention and education messages reach patients and their partners."

Reported Syphilis Cases – Number (Rate per 100,000) in NYC: 1990, 1995 – 2002
362 (4.9)
138 (1.9)
*Preliminary Data through June 30, 2002

Syphilis in New York City 1999-2001

A Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) issued by CDC today indicated that cases of primary and secondary syphilis more than doubled from 117 in 2000 to 282 cases in 2001. The increase is primarily due to a recent outbreak of syphilis among MSM. Overall, 93% of reported cases in 2001 (263 cases) occurred in men. Among the 198 men who provided information on sexual partners, 159 cases (80%) reported male sexual partners. This is an increase from year 2000, when there were 62 cases of syphilis among MSM, and from 33 cases in 1999 (78% and 42% of all male cases, respectively). Nearly 50% of MSM diagnosed with syphilis in 2001 were co-infected with HIV. Although these numbers have increased substantially in recent years, they are far lower than they were previously; in 1990, there were more than 4,200 cases of syphilis reported in New York City.

DOHMH has been working to engage those at risk to adopt safer sexual practices, this has included the Syphilis is Back public education campaign, posters and hand-held information cards informing individuals about syphilis and how to get tested. DOHMH continues to work with community-based organizations to distribute these materials within communities of at risk populations. DOH also disseminates health advisories and newsletters to health care providers to promote screening, prompt diagnosis, treatment, partner management and case reporting of syphilis.

Information about Syphilis

Syphilis is serious, but curable and preventable. Left untreated, however, syphilis can result in serious health consequences. Having syphilis makes it easier to become infected with HIV and spread it to others. In most cases, syphilis is easily cured with a single injection of penicillin. Penicillin will also stop syphilis infection in exposed persons who have not yet developed symptoms.

The New York City Department of Health's 10 STD clinics, located in each of the five boroughs, provide free diagnosis and treatment on a walk-in basis. Complete treatment guidelines and other STD information are available at Further information on syphilis is available by calling DOHMH's toll free information line at 1-877-NYC-DOH7 (1-877-692-3647), or from your medical provider.