An increase in syphilis infections among gay and bisexual men in New York and elsewhere indicates they may be letting their guard down against sexually transmitted diseases, government health officials said this week.
Syphilis infections more than doubled in New York City last year, mostly among gay and bisexual men, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
"We have a different generation of young gay men -- a generation that didn't grow up with all their friends dying of AIDS," said New York's health commissioner, Thomas Frieden. "This tells us that risky sexual behavior is on the increase, particularly among men who have sex with men."
The increase suggests the men may be abandoning safe sex practices because life-extending AIDS-treatment drugs are more widely available, the CDC said. The transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is enhanced by sexually transmitted diseases.
"Increased sexual risk-taking might also be related to 'AIDS burnout,' which is associated with years of exposure to prevention messages and long-term efforts to maintain safer sex practices," the CDC said.
New York had 282 cases of syphilis in 2001, up from 117 in 2000, according to city health officials. Ninety-three percent of those cases were among men; of those, 79 percent reported having male sexual partners.
Outbreaks of syphilis among gay men also have been recorded in Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco and Miami since 1997, the CDC said.
The increase in syphilis cases in New York follows record lows recorded in 2000.
Syphilis appears first as a sore, usually on the genitals, then develops as a rash. It can be cured with penicillin, but left untreated it can damage the heart, eyes, brain and other parts of the body.