State health dept. finds increase in syphilis

According to MDH, the new numbers link homosexual activity to the spread of syphilis.

Preliminary data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows that the number of new syphilis cases in the state increased 40 percent from 2007 to 2008. But with 97 percent of the new cases seen in males, MDH officials are tying the rise to gay men, according to a news release. The Department of Health reported that the new cases are centered within the Twin Cities metropolitan area, with over 23 percent of the new cases among 15- to 24-year-olds, but the University of Minnesota has yet to see the increase. Although there were 159 early syphilis cases, 45 more than in 2007, Dave Golden, public health and marketing director for Boynton Health Service , said there were only two reported cases of the sexually transmitted infection at Boynton in 2008. He said college students are generally more educated, have fewer sex partners and use protection more often, compared to non-college students of the same age. But Golden said these numbers might be deceptively low because not all students go to Boynton for treatment. âÄúWe think that if you look at the campus rates, what we have for percentages and then you look at the number of cases that we see here, itâÄôs pretty clear that a lot of people opt to get treatment somewhere else,âÄù he said. The campus rates come from the random large-scale surveys Boynton gives every three years. According to the 2007 College Health Survey Report, 0.1 percent of university students contracted syphilis within the last 12 months, which could account for about 43 new cases in 2007. While the statewide numbers are alarming, Golden said it is an awakening for sexually active students. âÄúItâÄôs great to have these numbers, because itâÄôs a reminder for students to wear condoms,âÄù he said. According to the Department of Health, the majority of the increase came from gay men. Gay people often have less access to information that would help them prevent the spread of STIs, said Ross Neely, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Ally Programs office associate. âÄúWe believe that thereâÄôs a different set of access to the kinds of resources that can help you stay healthy when a population is oppressed or stigmatized,âÄù Neely said. Although there is no direct tie between homosexuality and syphilis, a lack of information can be dangerous, as untreated syphilis can lead to blindness, brain damage, heart problems and death. Neely said GLBTA, which helps people develop understanding of gender and sexuality , works with people in the medical school to show how public health is about human rights. Although Neely said college students have more access to information, he said he has heard accounts from group members who complain about a lack of accessible information. Molly Bednar , a Sexual Health Awareness and Disease Education officer, said she thinks the recent rise in STIs is a result of more people being tested. According to the Department of Health, in 2007 the total number of STIs increased by 4 percent from 2006 âÄî part of a 10-year trend of increasing STIs. The new data from the department of health will not help the stereotypes the gay community faces, Neely said, and the increase helps show how the discrimination plays out. âÄúIf you stigmatize a certain kind of sexual relationship or activity, then itâÄôs going to be that much harder for that to be taking place in a healthy environment,âÄù Neely said.