Syphilis and HIV Rates Remain High Among SA’s Gay and Bi Men

Gay and bisexual men account for almost half of all cases of syphilis in Bexar County.

The incidence of syphilis and HIV has increased over the past three years among San Antonio’s gay and bisexual men according to data provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The rate of syphilis and HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) increased in Bexar County from 2014 to 2015, the most recent year data is available. While the increases are small, the cumulative effect is nonetheless very high and represents an alarming trend.

The persistently high numbers of STI’s among gay and bisexual in San Antonio men represent a failure to practice safer sex or use condoms.

In the case of newly-diagnosed HIV infections, the increase from 2014 to 2015 was only three percent. However, gay and bisexual men in Bexar County now account for 80 percent of all new cases of HIV.

It’s the same with syphilis infections. The increase from 2014 to 2015 is two percent (excluding cases of congenital syphilis). The result of that increase means that 49 percent of all new syphilis diagnoses are among gay and bisexual men.

Data provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services

The syphilis statistics for gay and bisexual men in the county reflect a national trend. The numbers for this demographic have more than doubled since the year 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials say the rise in the number of sexually transmitted infections is due in part to the fact that more people are getting tested. “A large part, maybe all, of the increase appears to be linked to the ability to diagnose more infections through better testing and an increased availability of testing,” DSHS spokesman Chris Van Deusen told the San Antonio Express-News.

PrEP and STI’s

One advancement in the prevention of HIV is PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis), a pill (brand name Truvada) that keeps HIV negative people from becoming infected. Many sexually active gay men have started using the medication to stay safe. Some men on sex hook-up sites now boast of being “negative and on PrEP.”

However, a study from a Northern California health system conducted among a large group of people using Truvada revealed that in quarterly testing all the participants remained HIV negative but the rates rectal gonorrhea and urethral chlamydia increased steadily and about doubled after one year.

The results of that study suggest that some on the PrEP regimen are engaging in sex without condoms knowing they won’t get HIV but seeming to neglect the risk of getting other STI’s.

Locally, HIV and syphilis testing are available at BEAT AIDS, the San Antonio AIDS Foundation and MetroHealth’s STD Clinic among other locations.

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