What’s going on with syphilis rates in the U.S.?

Reproductive Health

Syphilis rates are on the rise in the U.S. There are a variety of factors that might be responsible for this, including underfunding of public health clinics and failure to train clinicians to take adequate sexual histories.

Rates of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) have been climbing in the U.S., especially since 2020 when the COVID pandemic likely disrupted doctor visits in which screening for some of these diseases might take place. Between 2020 and 2021, there was a 26% increase in rates of STIs in general in the U.S. and a 24% rise in rates of congenital syphilis, which can cause severe disease and even death in newborns and infants.

The syphilis rate in the U.S. reached a low point in 2000 and rates have been climbing ever since. What are some potential causes of this disturbing trend? In more recent years, the COVID pandemic most likely has something to do with it. But these trend lines were inching upwards even before 2020. STIs are frequently diagnosed at public health clinics, and public health in general in this country is chronically underfunded, leading to a situation in which many people do not have access to a provider who can screen for these illnesses. In addition, stigma around sex and sexually transmitted infections do not help matters, especially when it comes to the overall lack of training about STIs among clinicians. Reduced condom use and increased use of opioids may also be contributing.

Syphilis can be very difficult to detect because early symptoms like rashes and lesions are often asymptomatic and disappear on their own. During this time frame, a person can be very contagious but have no idea that they are even sick. Syphilis is highly treatable with antibiotics, but it may take regular screening, especially in high-risk groups, to ensure that cases are detected.

The causes behind the alarming rise in syphilis cases (among other STIs) may not be completely obvious to us now or in the future. But knowledge of some of the early signs of the disease and being vocal with your clinicians about regular screening for these illnesses can go a long way. As always, if you have any concerns about your health, contact your clinician promptly. In the meantime, stay safe and stay well!


Those Nerdy Girls