, a sexually transmitted disease
that was so rare by 1998 that federal health officials had planned to declare it eliminated by 2005, has made a troubling comeback in New York City and across the nation. In the first three months of this year, more than twice as many syphilis cases were diagnosed than were in the first quarter of 2006, according to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
In recent years, the disease has been most common in men who have sex with men. But now, health officials say they are concerned about an increase in cases among women in New York, following a trend seen nationally beginning in 2005. After a decade with almost no female cases, health officials said the jump among women was possibly fueled by an increase in the number of men having sex with both men and women.
City health officials said they were receiving more reports of bisexual behavior among men. And Dr. Stuart Berman, an epidemiologist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
, said that in the last few years, New York men with syphilis had reported engaging in bisexual behavior more often than men with the disease in other cities.
Syphilis is highly contagious and can be hard to detect, but is easily curable with antibiotics
. Untreated in pregnant women, it can cause stillbirth, severe birth defects and infant death.
The raw numbers are relatively modest — 260 cases in New York for the first quarter of 2007, including 10 among women — but they also contain a troubling signal: risky behaviors and unsafe sex appear to be on the rise. And many health experts warned that a spike in H.I.V.
cases could come on the heels of the syphilis outbreak.