Ocular Syphilis in Washington State Reflects National STD Trend

In News by AHF

AHF Calls for Increased STD Prevention Efforts

LOS ANGELES (January 29, 2014) — Six people in Washington State have been infected with ocular syphilis in the past two months—including two who have gone blind—according to recent Washington Department of Health public warnings and news articles. The Seattle Times and Outbreak News Today reported last week that since mid-December 2014, four cases were reported in the Seattle’s King County, including three men who have sex with men (MSM). Three of the cases were also identified as HIV-positive.

“These latest cases underline the dangers of the syphilis explosion taking place in this country,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “Recently, some have minimized the gravity of STDs like syphilis and gonorrhea, but these cases serve as a reminder that prevention of all STDs needs to be taken as seriously as the efforts to prevent HIV.”

Ocular syphilis is typically a complication of primary or secondary syphilis and some strains of Treponema pallidum, the bacterium that causes syphilis, may be more likely to cause eye or central-nervous-system disease. These disturbing reports from Washington State come on the heels of the CDC’s latest STD Surveillance report released in December that claimed the rate of primary and secondary syphilis in 2013 was the highest recorded since 1996. Of those individuals diagnosed with syphilis, 91% percent were men and 75% were men who have sex with men (MSM) and over half of MSM with primary and secondary syphilis were co-infected with HIV.

To draw attention to alarming syphilis rates that have been steadily climbing since 2000, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) launched a series of billboard and media campaigns to encourage STD prevention and testing. Earlier this summer, AHF ran its “California: #2 in Syphilis” billboard and bus bench campaign featuring the California flag’s iconic Grizzly bear smacking a paw to his forehead in a moment of “D’oh!” to draw attention to the CDC’s previous surveillance report that ranked California’s syphilis rate second in the U.S. only to Georgia.

In November, AHF launched a targeted billboard campaign in Los Angeles County, which the CDC named in its most recent report as having the highest number of primary and secondary syphilis cases of any county in the nation. The billboards feature a volcanic landscape emblazoned with the warning “Syphilis Explosion” and promote www.freeSTDcheck.org, where the public can find locations to access free STD testing and affordable care for the treatment of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis through AHF. AHF recently released an online video to complement the billboards that can be viewed bellow:

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