Florida’s Syphilis Problem: Broward Leads The Way In New Infections

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the rate of new syphilis cases is skyrocketing nationwide. Florida is at the forefront of the trend – leading the country in new syphilis cases. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is looking to stem the tide on that trend.

Despite its name, it’s a public health organization, not just an AIDS organization. It began as an AIDS hospice program but has since branched out to support the treatment of many public health threats including STD’s. And Florida can use all the help it can get.

The state saw 4,470 cases of syphilis diagnosed at varying stages – primary/secondary (also known as infectious) syphilis, early latent syphilis, and late latent syphilis – throughout 2012, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Compare that to California which reported 2,953 cases of primary, secondary, and congenital syphilis, which is when a child is born with syphilis due to its mother’s undiagnosed or untreated infection.

Last September, AHF sent informational mailers about the dramatic increase of syphilis in Broward County during the past decade or so, to some 22,000 residents to encourage people to get tested.

The mailer noted several staggering statistics about syphilis in Broward County to include: Syphilis cases in Broward County have increased by 400 percent since 2000, since 2005, the rates in Broward are two-times that of the rest of the state of Florida and that 19 million Americans are infected with STIs annually, and only half are aware they are infected.

“Even after those mailings, Florida is still on the top five list. The infection rates have not gone down,” said Albert Ruiz, AHF’s Director of Wellness Center Programs. “When we partnered with Broward County to open the STD clinic in Fort Lauderdale, our testing numbers and client visits were nearly doubled. So the mailers did bring awareness. However, the infection numbers have not gone down. So this issue requires continued education and reminders to people that are sexual active that being screened is part of their health care routine.”

AHF is also cautious when it comes to pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP.  AHF has expressed public concern that people incorrectly using the new HIV prevention strategy could lead to a continued rise in rates of syphilis, which can be a devastating and even deadly disease if left untreated.

This week at the International AIDS Conference in Australia there was a lot of hype and optimism about the drug. But AHF officials are still cautious.

Ged Kenslea is AHF’s Communications Director. He attended the conference in Australia.

“If anything, the PrEP results reported [from the iPrEx OLE (Open Label Extension)] study results released show how critical adherence is to the efficacy of PrEP for HIV prevention and I would argue they were mixed at best, and, in fact, underscore many of the concerns that AHF has regarding the CDC & World Health Organization’s recent recommendations for widespread scale up of PrEP to targeted high-risk populations,” he told SFGN.

According to Kenslea the bottom line for people here: PrEP will not protect you from syphilis. When taken correctly and used with condoms, PreP has a 96 percent for protecting users from HIV. If you’re taking PrEP and you’re not using a condom, you’re not protected against HPV, syphilis, or gonorrhea.


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Greg Kabel
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