As new cases of sexually-transmitted diseases continue to rise in San Francisco, there may be an unlikely culprit behind infection rates that well exceed the national average: The City’s success in combating the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Infection rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis among San Francisco residents have been steadily rising since 2007, according to the Department of Public Health.
Instances of chlamydia have increased nearly 20 percent over the last five years – from 500 cases per 100,000 people in San Francisco in 2007 to just under 600 cases in 2012. New cases of syphilis have more than doubled during that time frame, from 40 cases per 100,000 people to over 105 in 2012, according to statistics presented by the health department.
Prevention strategies that have helped decrease the spread of HIV and AIDS – from 492 new cases to 399 cases in 2010, according to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation – may help lead to the spread of the other diseases.
The health department says there is an increase in “seroadaptive” HIV/AIDS prevention methods – in which people consider HIV infection status when choosing a sexual partner. These methods have helped slow the spread of the disease, which has progressed from a once near-fatal diagnosis to a chronic condition. But not using a condom means other sexually transmitted infections can occur.
Dr. Susan Philip, the director of The City’s STD Prevention and Control Services, told the Health Commission last week that in the past HIV and STD prevention strategies were the same, such as using condoms and reducing the number of partners.
“Now we are seeing a divergence — effective HIV prevention approaches that can increase transmission of STDs,” she said.
The biggest increase of new sexually-transmitted disease infection is among men who have sex with men, and service providers are struggling to keep up. Magnet, a Castro district-based STD testing and treatment clinic, treats about 9,500 people every year – and every day, must turn between 10 and 20 would-be patients away, according to director Steve Gibson.
“We tend to know a lot about HIV and AIDS,” Gibson said. “We tend to know not a lot about other STDs.”
Condom use and reducing the number of new partners remain the most effective strategies. Sexually-active people are encouraged to get tested every six months, or every three months if they have multiple partners, Gibson said.
“We’re not telling people not to have sex,” Gibson said. “We’re saying, here are your options: you can use a condom, you can reduce the number of people you have sex with – or you can come in here every three months.”