Hooking up apps correlate with syphilis increase

Posted at 6:18 AM, Jan 06, 2016

The number of people diagnosed with syphilis is raising every year in Erie County. The Health Department is now trying to cut those numbers, but says technology and apps for hooking up are making that hard.

In 2011, just 39 people in Erie County were diagnosed with syphilis. That number jumped up to 157 during the year 2015. Dr. Gale Burstein, the Erie County Health Commissioner, says those numbers are reflected throughout New York State and the rest of the country.

According to the Erie County Health Department, 86-percent of cases reported in the county are amongst men. Monica Boutin, a Disease Intervention Specialist with Erie County, says that a large percentage are amongst men whom are homosexual.

Boutin says that many of those infected list hook-up apps such as Grindr, Growlr and Adam4Adam as places where they met partners.

"Sometimes they know very little about their partners," Boutin stated, "just their screen name, and it makes it a lot harder to notify that partner about a possible exposure."

Notifying a partner about a possible exposure is how the Health Department works to try to prevent spread of reportable diseases.

LGBT advocates say that they are watching the trend.

Matthew Higgins, the Senior Director of the PRIDE Center of WNY, states that it is important not to stigmatize.

"The reality is technology is not going to go backwards, and people are going to use it, and people are going to have sexual activity and it's very important instead of further stigmatizing is acknowledge the reality of how people meet, how people interact," Higgins explained.

Higgins adds that there is also a high rate of STD testing in the homosexual community due to community outreach. He also adds that it is important for doctors and patients to be honest with one another.

"The way that we ask questions is sometimes the way that we get answers back," Higgins said. "And if a person is feeling some type of external conflict or worry or even fear that they'll be judged, then they're going to be less likely to give a full answer."

Health officials echo that it is important to be honest and not to classify this as a disease only targeting the gay community. Fourtten-percent of the people diagnosed with syphilis in 2014 were women.

In addition, Boutin stresses that plenty of heterosexual patients also contract sexually transmitted diseases from people they hook-up with through smartphone apps.

One of the biggest concerns with syphilis, specifically, is that open sores can make the patient more at risk for other diseases.

"We know in sexual networks that where there's a lot of syphilis that there's also a lot of HIV," Burstein explained.

Another big worry is that if a woman contracts syphilis and becomes pregnant, that could be life-threatening for the baby.

"The congenital syphilis can be a devastating disease and it's 100-percent preventable," Burstein said.

Burstein stresses that is another reason it is important to monitor pregnancies and STD's.

"The congenital syphilis can be a devastating disease and it's 100-percent preventable," Burstein said.




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