Control of Syphilis Outbreaks in Men Who Have Sex With Men: The Role of Screening in Nonmedical Settings

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Objective:To quantify the scope and yield of targeted syphilis screening in nonmedical settings in 7 US cities affected by recent syphilis outbreaks among men who have sex with men (MSM).Methods:Data were collected from syphilis screening activities targeting MSM between 1999 and 2004, conducted in bathhouses or other commercial sex venues, MSM-oriented bars, mobile vans, and other nonmedical settings by the public health departments of Chicago, Houston, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, NY, and San Francisco.Results:Of 14,143 syphilis screening tests (STS) conducted during community outreach campaigns at a variety of MSM oriented venues, 132 (0.9%) new cases of syphilis were identified. One hundred five (0.8%) new cases of early syphilis were found, including 23 cases of symptomatic syphilis. Screening in jails produced the highest prevalence of early syphilis (1.3%, 51 cases/3853 STS), followed by sex venues, including bathhouses (1.2%, 29 cases/2511 STS).Conclusions:These data suggest that even nontraditional, highly targeted screening programs conducted during outbreak situations do not detect many persons with syphilis, even though many of the screening venues were locations where men with syphilis met their sex partners. The low prevalence of infectious syphilis identified during these screening events suggests that the direct impact of these programs on decreasing syphilis transmission may be negligible. However, the secondary benefits, such as increasing awareness of syphilis and prompting earlier treatment due to symptom recognition, may be substantial.

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