Syphilis cases spike in city, low in Queens

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Syphilis cases in New York City rose by 50 percent last year, which the Health Department blamed on an a lack of safe sex practices among men. Queens reported the fewest cases citywide after Staten Island.

“After the steady decline of syphilis cases in New York City over the past decade, it is extremely concerning to see this ongoing escalation,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, commissioner of the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“The increases in New York City, which are similar to what has been documented in other urban centers around the country, reflect an erosion of safer sex practices among men who have sex with men. These practices can result not only in the spread of syphilis, which can cause neurological and cardiovascular complications but also HIV,” he said.

Gregg Butler, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said there were 45 cases of syphilis in Queens last year, 39 of which involved men.

Staten Island, with six cases that all involved men, was the only borough to report fewer cases of syphilis than Queens. Manhattan led the city with 247 cases, 242 of them involving men.

Brooklyn had 82 cases of syphilis, 75 of them infecting men, and the Bronx 56 cases with 46 involving men.

The Health Department, working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Callen Lords Community Health Center, completed a study on risk factors associated with syphilis resulting from sex among men. The most prominent risk factors for syphilis include HIV infection and unprotected anal intercourse with multiple partners. Other high-risk factors include drug use prior to sex, recruiting sex partners at private sex parties, clubs and bath houses and sex with anonymous partners.

Conclusions as result of the study suggested that those at risk should:

Get tested for syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases at least annually.

Limit the number of sex partners.

Talk to their partners about HIV and other STDs

Use condoms and other latex barriers.

The Health Department said syphilis is easily cured with a single injection of penicillin but untreated it can bring serious health consequences and in its most advanced state death.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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