The US is facing a “rapidly deteriorating public health crisis” according to experts, following the release of the CDC’s latest STD surveillance report. The findings reveal an epidemic of sexually transmitted infections that has spiraled out of control.
On January 30, 2024, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published figures showing over 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported in 2022. While all three infections saw an uptick, it’s the statistics for syphilis that are most alarming.
Reported cases of the bacterial infection have skyrocketed by a staggering 80% in just five years. Deadly congenital syphilis, passed from mother to baby during pregnancy, has shot up by nearly 1000% over the past decade.
|Syphilis (All Stages)
|Total Reported STIs
“Our nation is facing a rapidly deteriorating public health crisis with real lives at stake,” said the National Coalition of STD Directors. The CDC echoed similar concerns, calling the epidemic “out of control.”
A Curable Disease That Can Quickly Become Deadly
Although syphilis is curable with antibiotics, if left untreated it can have devastating consequences. The infection progresses through three stages, the first two of which produce highly infectious lesions and rashes.
While most cases don’t advance further, the third and final stage can wreak havoc on the body, ultimately destroying organs and causing death.
Congenital syphilis, transferred from mother to child during pregnancy, is the biggest worry. It can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, liver damage, bone deformities, and neonatal death.
Texas, California, Arizona, Florida and Louisiana accounted for over half of all reported congenital syphilis cases in 2022. Shockingly, these led to 282 stillbirths and infant fatalities.
“Every case is one too many when we have the tools to prevent it,” said CDC Acting Director Dr. Laura Bachmann. Catching syphilis early allows it to be treated with antibiotics before reaching the severe tertiary stage. So why are cases spiraling?
Perfect Storm of Overstretched Resources and Risky Behavior
According to Dr. Bachmann, recent public health emergencies have diverted resources and staff away from STD prevention and treatment. At the same time, more people are having condomless sex, fueled by factors like drug use and online dating apps.
With syphilis spreading rapidly among certain groups, a lack of regular testing means many people are unaware they are infected. Active cases that go undiagnosed allow the infection to spread further.
The CDC is now urging healthcare providers to ramp up testing among at-risk populations in their community. It’s also calling for improved public education on the importance of safe sex practices like condoms. But everyone has a part to play.
Protect Yourself and Others
To avoid STDs, the CDC recommends limiting your number of partners, using condoms correctly every time you have sex, and getting tested regularly. Annual chlamydia and HIV tests are recommended for sexually active adults under 65, along with STD screening whenever you change partners.
If you are pregnant, STD tests are vital to avoid passing infections to your baby. Syphilis screening at the first prenatal visit, and again in the third trimester, can prevent devastating cases of congenital syphilis.
By working together, better education, testing and treatment can help get America’s hidden STD crisis under control.
As Dr. Bachmann summarizes, “We are calling on all partners to understand who should be tested for syphilis in their community, talk with patients about sexual health, treat patients and their partners immediately, and work with local and state health departments to improve syphilis management and access to care.”