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HIV risk higher for teens who had syphilis, gonorrhea
  April 07, 2011|By Don Sapatkin, Phil Inquirer Staff Writer
Infectious syphilis spiked 45 percent in Philadelphia in 2009. Gonorrhea jumped 36 percent in 2010.
Most troubling of all: A new analysis shows that teenagers who have had either one are at 2.5 to 3 times greater risk of contracting far more deadly HIV within the next few years.
Teenagers and young adults already make up a quarter of new HIV cases - a statistic that has been steadily rising while numbers for the rest of the city population have started to fall.
Mayor Nutter on Thursday will announce the city's biggest new prevention effort in 20 years, beginning with the winning wrapper design for a free new Philadelphia condom - an attempt to make prophylactics fun and, it is hoped, get more people to use them. The campaign by the Department of Public Health will include a teen-friendly website, mail-ordering, dozens of new distribution sites for a planned one million new condoms - the city already gives away 1.5 million - and a GPS-enabled iPhone application that will, as disease-control director Caroline Johnson memorably put it, "tell you where your local condom is."
The choice of a condom as a headliner underscores the lack of good options for health workers facing a major challenge: how to persuade teens and young adults to do the two things they seem least wired to do - have less sex, or at least stop and think about having it more safely.
Haneef Williams learned he was HIV positive three years ago, at age 19. He said he had not used a condom with his first partner. With his second, a committed relationship that lasted 2.5 years, "we were using condoms, but there came a point when we stopped," he said. After five months, they both felt safe, he said.
HIV is no longer the death sentence that it once was. But there is constant blood work and doctor visits and drugs and shots for protection against all the other diseases to which you are more vulnerable, the added risk of heart disease and cancer - not to mention the way others react to you. "My life could have been so much different if I would have protected myself," said Williams, 22, who lives in West Philadelphia.
Williams is part of the biggest and fastest-growing HIV demographic: young African American men who have sex with men. An astounding 29 percent of them ages 20 to 24 are living with HIV or AIDS, according to city health officials' estimates. But rates for young women are not falling, and an estimated 1.3 percent of all city residents in that age group are living with HIV or AIDS.
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