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Unsafe Sex Is on Increase, Health Officials Fear

Disease: Syphilis is up among gay men, and a survey of HIV-positive residents shows ignorance about deadliness and transmission.

June 08, 2001|CHRISTINE HANLEY and JENNIFER MENA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Orange County health officials are concerned that unsafe sex is on the rise, citing a recent increase in syphilis among gay men and a new survey of HIV-infected residents that shows a nonchalance about transmitting the virus.

A survey of 513 HIV-infected county residents shows that many do not realize the seriousness of the virus and that nearly half had not discussed it with a partner before sex.

One-third wrongly thought that because of new treatments, HIV no longer leads to death.

Forty-three percent of respondents said they rarely or never discussed HIV before sex, nearly 25% did not know the HIV status of one or more sex partners, and 14% wrongly thought HIV-positive partners are less likely to transmit the virus if they are being treated for it.

The Public Statistics Institute conducted the study for the Orange County Health Care Agency at federally funded AIDS clinics.

Nearly 6,000 cases of AIDS and more than 3,000 AIDS-related deaths have been reported in Orange County since 1981.

The number of HIV-positive residents is estimated at 6,700.

County health officials are examining the results of the latest study along with new figures that show a jump in syphilis cases in the county, saying that more education and prevention programs are needed.

Eighteen new cases of syphilis were reported in the county through March this year, twice the number for the same period a year earlier, said Dr. Penny Weismuller of the Orange County Health Care Agency.

The increase has been linked to four bars in central and southern parts of the county that serve primarily gay Latinos, Weismuller said, declining to identify the bars.

Health officials are working with the bar owners to educate patrons about the dangers of syphilis, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, Weismuller said.

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