Gay Men Blinded by Ocular Syphilis Outbreak

Public health officials on the West Coast are urging medical professionals to look out for cases of ocular syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that can cause blindness — after two potential cases have been reported in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times reports.

On March 12, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued an advisory for primary and eye-care providers to look out for symptoms associated with the disease, which is usually a complication of primary or secondary syphilis infections.

With more than a dozen cases — most among gay men — reported between Seattle and San Francisco and now potentially two in Southern California, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is calling for medical professionals to do more, the Times reports.

“These new cases … highlight the importance of ongoing, regular check-ups for sexually active individuals who feel they may be at risk, particularly men who have sex with men,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein in a statement.

Some of the patients also are HIV positive, including six in San Francisco. In Seattle, two of the patients went blind, the Times reports.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California’s syphilis rate was second in the country behind only Georgia. Los Angeles also had the highest number of primary and secondary cases of syphilis of any county in the U.S. in 2013, the CDC reported.

Doctors were warned this week to be on the lookout for patients reporting unusual vision problems. The Associated Press said the disease occurs most often in men who have sex with men. In December and January, health officials in Washington state reported six people diagnosed with ocular syphilis, two of whom went blind according to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Seven cases have been reported in San Francisco, five among MSM and six of whom were HIV-positive, the Foundation reports.
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