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"Return of syphilis as men rely on prostitutes" The Times Online, 13 Jan 07

An increase in single Chinese men visiting prostitutes has contributed to a resurgence of syphilis in China, a disease that had been all-but eradicated from the country 30 years ago.

A study published in The Lancet indicates that the number of syphilis cases in China increased to 6.5 per 100,000 people in 1999 from less than 0.2 per 100,000 in 1993.

When the Communist Party took power in 1949, China was suffering one of the biggest syphilis epidemics in history and the Government began a prolonged campaign to eliminate sexually transmitted diseases.

By 1964, syphilis had become rare and was virtually absent for the next 20 years. The study linked the disease's re-emergence to economic reforms and globalisation.

"These changes have led to income gaps and a cultural climate that favours re-emergence of prostitution due to a substantial majority of men and a large migrant population of male workers," the report says.

"Changing social practices such as people experimenting with sex at earlier ages and before marriage, as well as increasing costs of individual healthcare, also contribute."

The researchers based their report on data collected from China's national sexually transmitted disease surveillance system. The lead researcher, Myron Cohen, of the University of North Carolina, said: "Syphilis has returned to China with a vengeance. The data demonstrates a syphilis epidemic of such scope and magnitude that it will require terrific effort to intervene."

Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. Otherwise it can cause serious damage to the nervous system, heart or brain and can be fatal. (Reuters)

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