State health department says HIV, AIDS cases down, syphilis up

Officials are cautious about the decline in HIV/AIDS cases; a similar drop in 1999 preceded a 5 percent increase in 2000.

Koran Addo

The number of newly diagnosed HIV and AIDS cases has dropped in Minnesota.

But what appears to be good news might actually be more reason to worry, health officials said.

The decline in numbers is misleading because it might have less to do with people practicing safer sex and more to do with fewer people getting tested, said Minnesota Department of Health epidemiologist Tracy Sides.

The department reported a 13 percent decrease in diagnosed cases of HIV and AIDS last year.

Health officials also said there are fewer cases of sexually transmitted diseases on the University campus compared to the rest of the metro area.

“As far as we’re concerned, there’s nothing to celebrate; the numbers can pop back up next year,” Sides said.

The department documented a similar decline in 1999, and saw a 5 percent increase the following year.

Unlike HIV and AIDS, the department noticed an increase in the number of diagnosed syphilis cases – mostly among gay and bisexual men – in the state last year.

The difference between HIV and syphilis is that practicing safe sex might not be enough to stop the transmission of syphilis, Sides said.

“(Syphilis) is transmitted differently than HIV,” she said. “(It) just requires contact with syphilitic lesions.”

This means syphilis can be transmitted between partners even if the couple uses condoms.

Syphilis has three stages.

The primary stage, easily treated, is marked by very contagious chancre sores.

The secondary stage includes a rash all over the body, often in unusual places such as the palms and the soles of the feet.

The tertiary stage, the most serious, results in syphilitic bacteria in the nervous system and possibly the spinal canal.

University physician Marilyn Joseph said all stages of syphilis are treatable using penicillin or a similar drug, but the earlier syphilis is detected, the easier it is to treat.