Fifty-three cases of syphilis have been reported in the last six months, mostly among gay and bisexual men in Los Angeles County, bringing the tally in the outbreak that began last March to 144 cases.
Most of the infections, however, are not new. They seem to have occurred around the beginning of last year, signaling to public health officials and AIDS activists that the outbreak has been contained.
An anti-syphilis campaign that was begun last March when the outbreak was discovered apparently has succeeded in finding and treating people with the disease. Still, there is little indication that the rate of unprotected sex among gay and bisexual men has dropped, said John Schunhoff, chief of operations for public health for Los Angeles County.
That bodes ill not just for the spread of syphilis but for HIV, which is more easily transmitted when syphilis sores are present.
Lee Klosinski, director of education for AIDS Project Los Angeles, called on county officials to better coordinate efforts to monitor the link between AIDS and HIV infections and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Kyle Bernstein, a state epidemiologist who analyzed syphilis cases for several Southern California counties, said more than half of the men who contracted syphilis were already HIV-positive. That means, he said, they were knowingly engaging in unprotected sex although they could pass on the AIDS virus.