Gay, bisexual men drive Georgia’s syphilis epidemic

Gay and bisexual men in Georgia are contracting syphilis at over 33 times the rate of others in the state, helping push Georgia near the top in new cases of sexually transmitted diseases.

The combined cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia have also reached an all-time high in the U.S., according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention released in October. Georgia ranks higher than the national average in rates of all three diseases.

Decreased condom use among gay and bi men is a major factor in the continued increase, according to the CDC report.

Jonathan Mermin (photo), director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & TB Prevention, said STDs can come at a high cost for vulnerable populations.

“Curbing STDs will improve the overall health of the nation and prevent infertility, HIV and infant deaths,” he said in a statement.

Georgia had the fourth-highest rate of new primary and secondary syphilis infections in 2018, with 15.4 cases per 100,000 in population. Nevada had the highest rate, followed by California and Mississippi. The national average was 10.8 cases per 100,000 in population.

But for gay and bi men in Georgia, the numbers are bleaker. Georgia saw some 516 cases per 100,000 in population, which ranks ninth in the U.S. Mississippi had the highest rate, followed by Nevada, Louisiana, Arkansas and New York.

Georgia had the seventh-highest rate of new chlamydia infections, with 630 cases per 100,000 in population. Alaska had the highest rate, followed by Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, New Mexico and North Carolina. The national average was 540 cases per 100,000 in population.

Georgia had the 15th highest rate of new gonorrhea infections, with 200 cases per 100,000 in population. Mississippi had the highest rate, followed by Alaska, South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana. The national average was 180 cases per 100,000 in population.

There was no new information available on chlamydia and gonorrhea infections among gay and bi men in Georgia. Nearly one in eight gay and bi men in the U.S. have chlamydia or gonorrhea, according to a CDC study released in April. The infection rates mirror what Atlanta-based healthcare providers are seeing in their clients.

The new CDC report said multiple factors are driving the increase in STDs nationwide, including decreased condom use among young people and gay and bi men; drug use, poverty, stigma and unstable housing; and cuts to STD programs at the state and local level.

Gay and bi men account for nearly 70 percent of new syphilis infections nationwide, according to the CDC.

Fulton County partnered with Emory University and Joining Hearts to launch a massive syphilis testing blitz for gay and bi men in September. The goal was to test 30,000 gay and bi men in Fulton by the Atlanta Pride festival, which was Oct. 12-13.