Background: Mirroring national trends, Maricopa County, Arizona has observed an upswing in syphilis and HIV incidence among men who have sex with men (MSM) during recent years. Maricopa County, houses four million residents and ranked 7th in the nation for primary and secondary syphilis infections with a case rate of 10.3 /100,000 population in 2014. Seventy percent of all HIV & syphilis diagnoses occur in MSM; furthermore, increased popularity of geosocial networking applications (GSN) to locate sexual partners are associated with risky behaviors facilitating transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in Maricopa County.
Methods: Face to face interviews were conducted on all syphilis & HIV cases diagnosed from January 2009 to December 2015 at the Maricopa County’s STD clinic. Syphilis and HIV data were reviewed to analyze demographic trends and risk behaviors among MSM using Maricopa County’s STD surveillance system, MS Access and Excel databases.
Results: MSM accounted for 74% (1,662) of 2,251 syphilis cases identified in Maricopa County from 2009-2015 and 58% (1,410) of 2,147 HIV cases from 2009-2014. In MSM with early syphilis, HIV co-infection increased by 115% from 132 (56%) co-infections in 2009 to 253 (69%) co-infections in 2015. Among MSM co-infected with syphilis & HIV, 16 (11%) out of 142 cases reported using GSN apps to locate sexual partners in 2011, while 96 (38%) out of 253 co-infected cases reported using GSN apps in 2015. Among MSM using GSN apps, nearly a quarter reported using Grindr in 2015.
Conclusions: Our findings confirm that the use of GSN apps among MSM is placing this group at an increased risk of syphilis and/or HIV infection. Future studies should identify relationships between long term & consistent use of GSN apps and HIV/syphilis incidence. Development of targeted internet-based campaigns and novel interventions are imperative to controlling the ongoing spread of infection in MSM.