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January 22, 2008

Researchers Support NYC Bathhouse Regulation

Medical researchers are voicing support for keeping New York City’s bathhouses open so they may be used as centers of study for tracking sexually transmitted disease progression in the city. Dr. Demetre C. Daskalakis, a professor at New York University’s School of Medicine, says bathhouses and commercial sex venues are valuable research tools and, if regulated by the city, may also be able to serve as testing and prevention centers.

The support for keeping the bathhouses open comes on the heels of an announcement made by Dr. Thomas Farley, advisor to the city’s health commissioner. Dr. Farley stated that New York City is experiencing a rise in HIV infection and syphilis among men who have sex with men (MSM), Gay City News reports (gaycitynews.com, 1/17). News of the recent rise in STDs sparked debate about the role bathhouses might play in the spread of HIV and syphilis.

Medical researchers advocate studying, rather than closing, the bathhouses, in order to better understand, track and treat potential infections. “The level of contact that we’ve created here has allowed us to access a population of men that we never would have surfaced,” Daskalakis told Gay City News. “It would be a horrific mistake for New York City to close bathhouses because we will drive these people underground and we will not see them again until they show up with AIDS.”

According to the article, Daskalakis has been conducting HIV research in two Manhattan bathhouses—the East Side Club and the West Side Club—since 2006. So far, he has tested about 1,000 MSMs for HIV and other STDs and has referred those in need of health care to Bellevue Hospital, which is funding his studies.

Another expert, Dr. Robert S. Janssen, director of HIV/AIDS prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a statement: “The current role of high-risk venues, such as bathhouses in the HIV epidemic is not completely clear. However, these venues do provide important opportunities to reach at-risk individuals who might not otherwise be reached by HIV prevention programs.”



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