Health officials are concerned that social media may be fueling an alarming increase of syphilis cases.ANCHORAGE –
A sexually transmitted disease that was all but wiped out in Alaska just a few years ago is back, and the state is calling it an outbreak.
Now, concern is also on the rise about what may be fueling this alarming increase in syphilis cases.
Officials are linking the dramatic increase to apps that make it easier than ever to hook up. Health officials believe the ease of access to anonymous, no-strings-attached sex between men that apps like Tinder, Grindr and GROWLr provide is fueling an alarming trend.
“They’re having sex with individuals they don’t know and they’re acquiring syphilis,” said Alaska HIV and STD program manager Susan Jones. “And we also have an uptick in the HIV cases.”
The number of syphilis cases in Anchorage rose 60 percent recently; from 20 cases in 2012 to 32 cases in 2013, according to the Department of Health and Social Services. So far this year, 22 syphilis cases — all men — have been reported in Alaska.
Some in the LGBT community say social media isn’t to blame, and what this STD trend boils down to is personal responsibility or a lack thereof.
“I don’t think it’s the apps, we’re all human,” said R.J. Haywood, promotions manager at Mad Myrna’s. “We’re going to hook up one way or another.”
Haywood believes the problem lies in a lack of education and a lack of healthy fear in younger gay men that didn’t live through the aids crisis in the 80s and 90s.
“Their entire generation was devastated,” said Haywood, referring to how AIDS impacted the gay community in the 80s. “It’s not so much a death sentence anymore. Now you’ve got these kids that have never seen the true horror of what it can actually be, so syphillis isn’t their biggest fear.”
Health officials are urging those engaging in high-risk sexual behavior to take personal responsibility and protect themselves and their partners.
But Haywood said far too often, people opt to learn that lesson hard way.
“One time there was a group of military boys that I was hanging out with and they all got genital warts and after that they were really good about wrapping it up,” he said. “It takes a good scare but it also takes education within the community.”
Mad Myrna’s has been serving the Anchorage LGBT community since the early 90s. Managers there said they’ve taken it upon themselves to offer free condoms to customers and to invite organizations in to do free HIV testing for customers.