LOS ANGELES (December 19, 2014) —The rate of primary and secondary syphilis last year was the highest recorded since 1996 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced this week with the release of their 2013 STD Surveillance report. In 2013, there were 17,357 confirmed case of syphilis in the United States, a ten-percent increase over the previous year. Of those individuals diagnosed with syphilis, 91% percent were men and 75% were men who have sex with men (MSM).
To draw attention to alarming syphilis rates that have been steadily climbing since 2000, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) launched a series of billboard and media campaigns to encourage STD prevention and testing. In November, AHF launched a targeted billboard campaign in Los Angeles County, which the CDC named in its most recent report as having the highest number of primary and secondary syphilis cases of any county in the nation. The billboards feature a volcanic landscape emblazoned with the warning “Syphilis Explosion” and promote www.freeSTDcheck.org, where the public can find locations to access free STD testing and affordable care for the treatment of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis through AHF. AHF recently released an online video to complement the billboards that can be viewed at: http://youtu.be/2hwJaPAxUrU
“From the beginning, AHF has stressed the importance of consistent condom usage as a time-tested, proven method for preventing the spread of STDs, including gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia and HIV,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “For over a decade, we’ve watched syphilis rates climb higher and higher—especially in our own backyard. By placing our ‘Syphilis Explosion’ billboards in high-traffic areas around Los Angeles, we wanted to provide an arresting, visual daily reminder to our neighbors of how condoms are essential to protecting themselves from STDs and maintaining sexual health.”
Earlier this summer, AHF ran its “California: #2 in Syphilis” billboard and bus bench campaign featuring the California flag’s iconic Grizzly bear smacking a paw to his forehead in a moment of “D’oh!” to draw attention to the CDC’s previous surveillance report that ranked California’s syphilis rate second in the U.S. only to Georgia. The CDC’s most recent data names California as the state with the most cases of primary and secondary syphilis. Furthermore, the greater Los Angeles region ranks second only to New York City in total number of primary or secondary syphilis cases reported in the country’s metropolitan areas.
The CDC also reported a high correlation of syphilis and HIV co-infection among MSM, with over half of MSM with primary and secondary syphilis co-infected with HIV. Among HIV-positive MSMs, the CDC said the prevalence of primary and secondary syphilis was 9%—compared with 2.6% of HIV-negative MSMs.
“While many may be hoping to soon write the obituary of the condom and welcome a new era of condomless sex, the fact remains that there are no pills that can be taken to prevent gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia and other harmful STDs,” continued Weinstein. “As these latest numbers from the CDC clearly show, condoms still matter.”