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Syphilis Rates in Heterosexuals Need Monitoring: Study

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Public health officials in the United States need to watch for increasing rates of syphilis among heterosexuals, say the authors of a study that found sharp increases in new syphilis infections among heterosexuals in Jefferson County, Ala.

U.S. syphilis rates have been increasing since the early 2000s, and this rise has been associated primarily with men who have sex with men (MSM). Between 2002 and 2004, MSM accounted for 46.3 percent of all new syphilis cases in Jefferson County, which includes the city of Birmingham.

However, between 2005 and 2007, heterosexuals accounted for 87.7 percent of new syphilis cases in the county, while MSM accounted for only 12.3 percent, said the study published Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, cases of syphilis in Jefferson County increased from nine in 2002 to 238 in 2006, and then declined to 167 in 2007. Between 2002 and 2007, the proportion of women with syphilis increased from 26.9 percent to 43.3 percent. The researchers noted that after 10 years of decline, syphilis cases among women in the Southern U.S. increased 69 percent between 2003 and 2007.

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