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feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

November-01-02

Syphilis Rate Rises in United States for First Time in Decade

Though the rate of syphilis cases declined in some of the populations most affected by the infection, including African-Americans and residents of the South, the overall rate of syphilis in the US has increased by 2 percent between 2000 and 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. The biggest increase of cases of syphilis was among men, particularly gay and bisexual men, according to the CDC. This new development raises concerns of a subsequent increase in the HIV/AIDS infection rate. Persons infected with syphilis are two to five times more likely to contract HIV, and the increased numbers of gay and bisexual men with syphilis indicates a decline in safe sex practices, the CDC reports.

The CDC notes that social factors such as poverty, racism, and lack of health insurance can place some people at greater risk of contracting syphilis, but the screening test and treatment for syphilis are both very inexpensive and effective. Rates are relatively low in the United States, but worldwide there were an estimated 11.76 million new cases in 1999, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Syphilis is also a concern for pregnant women, as untreated cases of syphilis during pregnancy can lead to stillbirth and neonatal or congenital syphilis in babies, according to the WHO. Though latex condoms do not fully protect against syphilis, which is transmitted through sores that can extend beyond the coverage of condoms, the CDC calls regular condom use a “good defense” against the disease, and condom use has been shown to significantly reduce the chances of contracting HIV. The WHO recently released a report outlining major health risks worldwide, and the number two health risk was unsafe sex, with lack of condom use listed as one of the highest-risk sex practices.

However, the Bush Administration has been downplaying the benefits of condom use, going so far as to remove fact sheets about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy from the CDC website. In addition, the Administration has supported huge funding increases for abstinence-only sex education in high schools, which are required to only discuss condoms in terms of their failure rates. In addition, the US has significantly decreased the number of condoms it distributes to the developing world, from 800 million in 1990 to only 360 million in 2000. Though the need for condoms in developing countries and Eastern Europe has been estimated to be 8 billion annually just to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS, less than one billion condoms are supplied by donor countries. The Bush Administration made matters worse by refusing to disburse $34 million appropriated by Congress to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which is the one of the largest sources of condoms for developing countries. The UNFPA also conducts programs on increasing the reach and quality of prenatal care in the developing nations, including diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis.

TAKE ACTION: Urge Bush to Restore UNFPA Funding

Media Resources: CDC release 11/1/02; CDC fact sheet, May 2001; WHO release, 10/30/02; WHO report 2001; Boston Globe 11/1/02; New York Times 11/1/02; Feminist Daily News Wire


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