The US syphilis rate increased for the seventh consecutive year in 2007, primarily among men who have sex with men (MSM), according to preliminary data from the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The news was presented in a report at the 2008 National STD Prevention Conference in Chicago.

“STDs remain a major threat to the health of gay and bisexual men, in part because having an STD other than HIV can increase the risk of transmitting or acquiring HIV,” said Dr Kevin Fenton, from the CDC.

The data show that the national rate of primary and secondary syphilis – the most infectious stages of the disease – increased 12 percent between 2006 and 2007.

As in recent years, this overall increase was driven by continued increases among males, said the CDC, adding that several sources of data indicate that substantial increases in syphilis among MSM since 2000 largely account for the overall trend in males.

“The resurgence of syphilis among MSM represents a formidable challenge to our STD prevention efforts, but one that is surmountable,” Fenton said.

“The solution comes down to making STD screening and treatment a central part of medical care for gay and bisexual men, while finding innovative ways to help MSM avoid STD infections – including HIV – in the first place.”

Since 2002, the CDC has recommended that sexually active MSM be tested at least annually for syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that has often been called “the great imitator” because so many of its symptoms are indistinguishable from those of other diseases. Many people infected with syphilis do not have any symptoms for years, yet remain at risk for late complications, including death, if they are not treated.

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