In a troubling development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a nearly 80% surge in syphilis cases across the United States, totaling more than 207,000 between 2018 and 2022. This sharp increase spans all age groups, including newborns, and affects every region of the country.
A staggering 3,755 cases of congenital syphilis were reported in 2022, marking a 937% increase over the past decade. The CDC highlights the disproportionate impact of this STI on racial and ethnic minorities, attributing the disparity to longstanding social inequities that lead to health inequalities.
Various factors contribute to the rise in syphilis cases, including substance abuse linked to risky sexual behaviors, a decline in condom use, ongoing social and economic challenges, and reduced state and local services for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The CDC emphasizes the silent nature of STIs, which often present no symptoms, making screening essential for timely diagnosis and treatment. Access to sexual healthcare plays a crucial role in the diagnosis and reporting of infections.
Laura Bachmann, acting director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, spoke about the stigma surrounding STIs, noting its impact on people seeking care and on healthcare providers’ ability to discuss these issues openly.
The findings signal an urgent need for reevaluated public health efforts and prevention strategies. Bachmann stresses the importance of addressing barriers to STI prevention and healthcare services, highlighting the need for innovation in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, remains hopeful for new prevention tools, including post-exposure prophylaxis and improved syphilis tests. However, success depends on reaching those most in need through coordinated efforts at all government levels.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services continues to tackle the issue, with Admiral Rachel Levine leading a federal task force aimed at reducing syphilis incidence and its consequences.
Elizabeth Finley of the National Coalition of STD Directors underscores the challenges faced by communities in implementing government recommendations, especially in light of recent Bicillin shortages and funding cuts for STD prevention.
The CDC’s report also sheds light on other STIs, noting a decrease in reported gonorrhea cases and stable chlamydia rates. With over 2.5 million cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia reported in 2022, the urgency for effective treatment and prevention measures has never been greater.