While new cases of HIV have continued to decline, other documented instances of sexually transmitted diseases are on a continuous multi-year rise in San Francisco and across California.
Some local clinics are attempting to combat the spike with additional testing methods for syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia that involve checks of the throat and rectum — steps not currently endorsed as essential by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
In an effort set to launch next month, The City’s Magnet Clinic is using a public grant to sign up and notify high-risk individuals that it’s time for their regular checkups. And to underscore the importance of paying attention to a serious issue, the “pilot” messages will go beyond dry medical terminology.
“Syphilis, like the ’80s, is back — especially with guys who bareback,” one potential text will read. “Get to Magnet every three months if condoms aren’t your thing.”
Steve Gibson, director of Magnet Clinic, said the edgy reminders are designed to garner more trust and increase visits from gay men, which The City’s Department of Public Health has identified as the highest-risk group for STDs along with adolescent minorities.
“They’re tailored toward gay men,” Gibson said of the new messages. “In order for people to read it, it has to be relevant to them.”
Susan Philip, the health department’s director of STD prevention, said Magnet and others are key partners for combating this year’s rise in infections, which are outpacing 2011’s already troubling total. According to the most recent data in June, 1,278 cases of gonorrhea have been reported so far this year, compared with 1,015 in the same time period of 2011. The figures for chlamydia are similar, with 2,412 cases this year compared with 2,288 last year.
Total syphilis cases, which are broken into four categories, rose by 100 — from 392 to 492 — in the first half of 2012 compared with the same time period in 2011. Of those cases, Philip said, data show 60 percent are seen in HIV-positive gay men, many of whom find each other and have unprotected sex. While the HIV transmission is moot, syphilis often occurs as a result, Philip said.
The local figures are underscored by recently released California Department of Health data that show syphilis cases increased 18 percent statewide, with 80 percent of those impacted being gay men. Philip said more education is in order.
“We’re really trying to have a comprehensive approach to make sure HIV and STDs are seen as a comprehensive unit,” Philip said. “We do have concerns, and we want the rates to go down.”
First six months of 2012, compared to same time period in 2011
SOURCE: San Francisco Department of Public Health