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San Francisco Examiner

Rising gonorrhea rate spurs HIV fears; S.F., other cities




 

Foreboding a possible return of unsafe sex practices, the number of gay men diagnosed with gonorrhea has increased in San Francisco and several other U.S. cities, raising concerns that HIV may also be on the rise.

Between 1994 to 1995, the number of gay men with gonorrhea in a sampled San Francisco clinic increased 24 percent, from 271 to 336, according to a new study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Seattle, cases increased 125 percent between 1994 and '96, from 51 to 115 cases. In Portland between '95 and '96, the number of cases increased 124 percent, from 33 to 74 cases. Cases also climbed in Honolulu, San Diego, Denver and Long Beach.

Despite a continuing overall decline in rates of gonorrhea among all Americans, the trend among gay men may be reversing, federal health officials conclude.

However, rates of disease are nowhere near those seen in the early 1980s, when thousands of gay men were diagnosed annually.

"This new information should serve as a wake-up call to all populations at risk, that high-risk sexual behaviors continue to have very real consequences," said Dr. Helene Gayle, director of the CDC.

"Some gay men may not be taking the threat of AIDS as seriously as they once did," she said.

Signal of HIV rise?

The CDC study linked rising gonorrhea rates with attendance at specific sex clubs and other places frequented by gay men in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

Gonorrhea infections are considered a sentinel of the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. Rates of HIV are less easily monitored than rates of gonorrhea, due to confidentiality concerns. But it is known that the same unsafe sex practices that transmit gonorrhea also spread HIV.

Several other studies have documented relapses in unprotected anal sex among gay men.

Researchers once presumed that AIDS would wipe out an entire generation of men, but that the younger generation of gay men, educated about the peril, would be spared.

Now it seems that some young gay men may have missed earlier prevention messages, say AIDS experts. Or they fail to take the warning personally, neglecting to make life-saving changes in sexual behavior.

Cases inching upward

There is also concern that life-prolonging HIV drugs may give the mistaken message that HIV is no longer something to be taken seriously.

The number of gonorrhea cases has been inching upward in recent years, said Dr. Mitch Katz, director of the San Francisco Department of Health. But the cases seemed to have leveled off in 1997 - and are a far cry from levels seen before the onset of the AIDS epidemic.

A total of only 70 cases of rectal gonorrhea were reported in 1993 in San Francisco, according to Katz. By 1995, 100 cases were reported; by 1996, the number had climbed to 136.

So far in 1997, 84 cases have been reported. Katz estimates a year-end total of 110 to 120.

By comparison, in 1980, a total of 5,100 cases of rectal gonorrhea were reported. In recent years, new HIV infections have plateaued. In 1996, San Francisco had roughly 500 new HIV infections, down from about 950 annually 5 years ago.

"Any increase in rectal gonorrhea is disturbing, because it indicates high-risk sexual behavior that can also transmit HIV," said Katz.



 


Copyright © 1997 -The Bangkok Pos, Publisher. All rights reserved to San Francisco Examiner. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission. Reproduction of this article (other than one copy for personal reference) must be cleared through the San Francisco Examiner, Permissions Desk, 110 Fifth Street, P.O. Box 7260, San Franciso, CA 94120.San Francisco Examiner

Information in this article was accurate in September 25, 1997. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.