Syphilis Rates Rise by 14 Percent in U.S., CDC Says (Update2) By John Lauerman and Lisa Rapaport Nov. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Syphilis, spurred by unsafe sex among gay men, rose 14 percent in the U.S. last year and the government said chlamydia cases topped 1 million, the most ever reported for a sexually transmitted disease. The syphilis increase was the sixth reported annually since 2000, when prevalence hit an all-time low, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report today. About two-thirds of syphilis case last year were in homosexual men, according to the annual report. Sexually transmitted diseases cost almost $15 billion a year to treat in the U.S., and more than half of those infected are 15 to 24 years old, the Atlanta-based agency said. The CDC is trying to find ways to lower syphilis rates among homosexual men and black women, who saw increases in the disease for the second straight year. ``The honest truth is that we're on the early part of the learning curve with populations in which traditional approaches to prevention aren't working as effectively,'' said John Douglas, CDC's director of STD prevention, in a telephone call with reporters. Infections with syphilis, a bacterial nerve disease, rose to 9,756 from 8,724 the year earlier, the report said. Left untreated, the infection can cause severe damage to organs, leading to paralysis, blindness and dementia. Syphilis and other STD's also put people at higher risk of contracting HIV, Douglas said. Open sores and active infections make it easier for the AIDS virus to invade tissues and infect cells, he said. Sex Education ``When you see that almost half of these infections are among young people, that tells you we have to do a much better job of sex education in public schools,'' said Bill Stackhouse, director of the Institute for Gay Men's Health in New York, in a telephone interview today. Syphilis rates among homosexual men may have picked up during the past few years as more received treatment with effective ```cocktails'' of antiviral drugs, said John Douglas, director of CDC's division of STD prevention. GlaxoSmithKline Plc, Gilead Sciences Inc. and other companies make combination drugs that can hold the infection in check for years. Treatment ``improved their general health and well-being, and many resumed sexual activity,'' he said today in a phone call with reporters. `Higher-Risk Behaviors' ``There's a sense that higher-risk behaviors are becoming more and more common among men who have sex with men,'' said Demetre Daskalakis, an assistant professor of infectious disease at New York University, in a telephone interview today. Syphilis is ``easily transmitted through oral sex and you can have it without seeing any warts or outward symptoms.'' New York City health officials and gay advocates have raised awareness of syphilis with posters and placards distributed in clubs, said Daskalakis, who researches sexual behavior in the city's gay bathhouses. ``We need to take it to the next level, and do more testing, and make screening and treatment more routine.'' The syphilis risk for women, especially blacks, also increased for the second straight year, with an 11 percent rise in rates, the report said. ``We had really gotten to very low rates in women and achieved major reductions in African American women in particular,'' the CDC's Douglas said. ``Seeing the rates creep up in the last two years is a cause for concern.'' CDC has been experimenting with new measures to cut re- infection in women who have already been treated for STD's, he said. About one in four women treated for chlamydia and gonorrhea become reinfected within six months. New Measures For example, agency studies have shown that reinfections can be prevented when women's sexual partners are automatically treated for STD's, without a doctor visit. The practice would be legal in at least 11 states, Douglas said. The agency is also using the Internet to alert people about outbreaks of STD's in certain communities, he said. Infections with chlamydia, the most common STD that clinics report to the government, increased 5.6 percent to just over 1 million in 2006, CDC said. The disease often infects people without causing symptoms, and as many as 2.8 million Americans may have it. Three times as many women were diagnosed with chlamydia as men, the report said. Infections with gonorrhea, the No. 2 STD, rose 5.5 percent to 358,366 in 2006, the second straight year with an increase. The gains were driven by 12 percent increase in the South, the first rise there in eight years, the report said. Chlamydia Chlamydia, a treatable bacterial infection of the sex organs, was eight times more common among blacks than whites, and gonorrhea rates among blacks were 18 times higher than among whites. Gonorrhea rates among blacks rose 6.3 percent last year, the report said. Without treatment, chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause pain and permanent damage to the reproductive system. Women are especially susceptible to harm from chlamydia, which can cause infertility. Gonorrhea can cause infertility in both men and women if left untreated. Almost one million people worldwide are infected with a sexually transmitted infection every day, according to a report earlier this year from the United Nations' Geneva-based World Health Organization. The agency projects that more than 340 million people age 15 to 49 worldwide contract common bacterial infections such as syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia annually. Bloomberg.com: U.S.