Dating apps, gay sex and drug use: Syphilis running rampant after eradication appeared on the horizon

Credit: Methode Times
Credit: Methode Times

In 2000, syphilis rates were so low that public health officials believed eradication was on the horizon. But the rates started creeping up in 2001, grew steadily for the next two decades, then spiked 74% since 2015. There were nearly 130,000 cases nationwide in 2019, according to data released [April 13] by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In California and the U.S., about half of syphilis cases are in men who have sex with men. More than a third of women in the western United States who have syphilis also use meth, a drug that has seen its own surge in recent years.

In the gay community in San Francisco, for example, the rise of mobile dating apps like Grindr and Tinder made finding a date “faster than getting pizza delivered to your home,” says Dan Wohlfeiler, an STD prevention specialist.

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With the risk of contracting a deadly disease falling to almost zero, condoms fell even more out of favor than they already were, says [Dr. Ina] Park.

“If one man is taking PrEP and the other one is virally suppressed, there’s no HIV risk at all,” she says. “So why use condoms if you don’t mind having a touch of syphilis?”

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