Health Officials Blame Hook Up Apps for Syphilis Spike

The number of syphilis cases is on the rise, and some public health officials think it's because of Grindr. Well, Grindr and Adam4Adam and, presumably, Tinder and Hinge and OkCupid. These apps all make it easier to find people to have sex with, so naturally they cause more people to get STDs, right? Not exactly.

Reality is a little bit more nuanced. The specific instance of public health officials blaming a local spike in cases of syphilis happened in Onondaga County, New York, where Syracuse is located. From 2012 to 2013, the number of syphilis cases in the county doubled, though it's worth pointing out that the number jumped from just 15 cases to 29 cases. Across the state of New York, the number of cases rose 30 percent. "It is alarming to see the number of people who use these apps," said Dr. Cynthia Morrow, Onondaga County's health commissioner, told Syracuse.com. "They are significantly contributing to the spread of sexually transmitted disease."

In New York at least, public health officials drew the correlation between the syphilis spread and apps by asking newly infected people whether they use apps like Grindr to meet sexual partners, though the latest report doesn't break out these numbers. It's inevitably pretty difficult to identify the specific person who spread the disease when people have multiple partners.

There's another detail about this story that's worth parsing. Grindr, of course, is very popular among gay men, so it reads as potentially homophobic at first to call it out as the culprit. It turns out there is data to back up this claim, though. Nearly all of the syphilis cases in New York involved men, and some 70 percent of those men say they have sex with other men. So if Grindr is the most popular app among men who like men, it seems natural to say that Grindr is contributing the rise in cases.

So are hook up apps a good way to get STDs? Well, you're certainly more likely to get an STD if you're having sex with a lot of strangers, and some hookup apps enable that. But that doesn't mean you should avoid hook up apps. They seem like a lot of fun! Just don't let them take the place of common sense and protection.

At the end of the day, there could also be another variable in play. The number of syphilis cases has been rising across the country for a few years now. It's worth wondering if something is happening with the disease itself. After all, a new CDC study says that gonorrhea is actually getting harder to fight. Are we now dealing with some sort of super syphilis? Who knows. If so, it's certainly not Grindr's fault.