The New York City Health Department is expanding its public education campaign to raise awareness of increasing syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia rates across the city.
Some of the sexually transmitted infections grew at double-digit percentage rates over just a year in New York City, the health department says. Generally, similar cases of STIs have been on the rise nationwide in the last three years.
From 2015 to 2016, rates of syphilis have increased by 27 percent in New York City to nearly 2,000 cases, and rates of gonorrhea have risen by 13 percent to around 19,000 cases, according to the health department.
Chlamydia remains the most commonly reported STI in New York City, with nearly 67,000 cases reported in 2016 -- an increase of 6 percent since 2015.
The data reported that the majority of syphilis and gonorrhea cases appear among men who have sex with other men. The neighborhoods with the highest rates of primary and secondary syphilis were all in Manhattan: Chelsea, Central Harlem and Washington Heights.
Women are shown to have the higher rates of chlamydia, while vastly more gonorrhea cases were found among men, according to the data. Women, in fact, reported fewer gonorrhea cases from 2015 to 2016, while men reported 18 percent more.
Neighborhoods with the highest rates of chlamydia are Crotona and Mott Haven in the Bronx, and Central Harlem in Manhattan; neighborhoods with the highest rates of gonorrhea are Chelsea and Central Harlem in Manhattan and Crown Heights in Brooklyn.
To combat rising STI rates in New York City, the health department’s new campaign will encourage STI testing and will be shared across social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Grindr, as well as citywide bus shelters and subways.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett says the city has expanded its eight Sexual Health Clinics to guarantee affordable screening and care. Mayor de Blasio has also invested $23 million annually for STI prevention and to reduce the number of new HIV infections.
Having syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia can make it easier to get or spread HIV, and having untreated STIs can have lasting health effects like vision and hearing loss, dementia, paralysis, infertility and stillbirth.
Fortunately, they are all curable with antibiotics. Because many people with STIs have no signs or symptoms, the Health Department is stressing the importance of getting tested regularly.
“Short of abstinence – which is not realistic for many New Yorkers – condoms provide the best protection available for syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia,” suggested Assistant Commissioner Dr. Susan Blank, of the Bureau of STD Control.
In 2016, the Health Department distributed over 38 million free condoms in locations across New York City, including bars, restaurants, salons, and universities, among other places. Since 2015, the Sexual Health Clinics have also been offering PlaySure Kits, which packages items for safe sex into a toolkit.
As Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Disease Control, explained, “‘Playing sure’ means using the prevention options that fit your lifestyle and pursuit of sexual satisfaction. Frequent and correct STI testing should be a key component of any sexually active New Yorker’s prevention plan,”
In addition, the new campaign’s slogan, “Bare It All,” encourages New Yorkers to talk openly with their doctors about their sex lives, drug use and other health issues.