Gonorrhea hits low in city, but syphilis increases

Gonorrhea cases in Baltimore declined to a historic low last year while syphilis cases, in decline for four years, increased slightly, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city's health commissioner, said yesterday.

Efforts to get treatment for infected patients -- and to test their partners for infection -- have paid off in a continued decline in gonorrhea, Beilenson said.


He also credited increased condom use among teen-agers and young adults, which is partly an outgrowth of rising consciousness about the risk of AIDS.

"This argues that the teen-age population is being more responsible," said Beilenson, who releases annual statistics on sexually transmitted diseases around Valentine's Day.


At the same time, the city met a snag in its campaign to reduce and eliminate syphilis. The disease, Beilenson said, is rising among two hard-to-reach demographic groups: teen-age girls who have sex with older men, and men, often married, who identify themselves as heterosexual but have relations with men.

Such men are particularly elusive because they don't frequent places where public health appeals are made, Beilenson said.

Gonorrhea cases dropped 16 percent over the previous year and were 33 percent lower than they were in 1999, when Baltimore led the nation in rates of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia, another sexually transmitted disease.

Last year, there were about 4,000 cases of gonorrhea. In the 1970s, Beilenson noted, it was common for Baltimore to record more than 23,000 cases a year -- a comparison that can only in part be explained by the city's population decline.

Syphilis cases rose from 121 cases in 2002 to about 135 cases last year, roughly a 10 percent increase. In the 1990s, syphilis cases typically topped 600.

In 2002, the city had the nation's fifth-highest syphilis rate, 18.6 cases per 100,000 people. It also had the third-highest gonorrhea rate, 748 cases per 100,000. The federal government has not compiled national rankings for last year.