Cases of Syphilis and Other Venereal Diseases Are on the Rise

Why are syphilis cases increasing in the United States and worldwide? Scientists have different explanations for this situation, which is a public health problem.
Cases of Syphilis and Other Venereal Diseases Are on the Rise
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 02 November, 2023

The publication of the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on sexually transmitted diseases set off alarm bells. According to the institution’s figures, cases of syphilis have been increasing since 2017 at a worrying rate.

But not only that disease is in the spotlight. Striking increases in other venereal diseases were also noted in the United States, such as gonorrhea. Why, what did the COVID-19 pandemic have to do with it? And more importantly: what are we doing to take care of ourselves?

CDC data reveals that cases of syphilis are on the rise

The CDC report collects data from 2017 to 2021 in the United States. With this data, experts were able to plot trends regarding sexually transmitted diseases. And what they found was a very large increase.

The statistics revealed on the official website of the institution reported the following:

  • While in 2017 there were 101,590 confirmed cases of syphilis, in 2021 that number rose to 176,713 patients.
  • Gonorrhea cases increased from 555,608 in 2017 to 710,151 in 2021.
  • Chlamydiasis increased in the last reported year, from 1,579,885 cases in 2020 to 1,644,416 in 2021.
If we translate the information into percentages, we find that cases of syphilis have increased in the USA at a rate of 74% over the last 4 years. During the same period, gonorrhea registered an increase of 28%.

The interpretation made by CDC professionals in the report attached to these statistics is a worrying trend. In particular, it shows that there are minority groups that were more affected, such as men who have sex with men. In them, the increase in diagnoses was significant.

African-Americans are present in approximately 30% of these reported cases. And homosexual and bisexual males account for one-third of the 2021 gonorrhea cases.

Since 2001, cases of primary and secondary syphilis have increased by 781% in the United States.

Read also: The Best Natural Remedies to Fight Syphilis

Are syphilis cases increasing in the rest of the world?

For medical specialists, we are facing a syphilis pandemic in the new century. A 2016 review already warned of the tendency of the problem to be more pronounced in countries with lower economic development.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every day 1 million people contract a sexually transmitted disease that can be cured with proper treatment. Every year, 376 million new cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis are diagnosed on the planet.

For its part, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) launched in 2021 its Epidemiological Review of Syphilis in the Americas.. It explains that Latin America and the Caribbean have registered an increase of 0.7% in cases in the last 30 years.

In Europe, the trends were variable, but are now in line with the global reality. A publication by the University of Cambridge reports that, between 2000 and 2010, syphilis reduced its presence in European citizens. However, since 2010, syphilis cases have increased from 4.4 diagnoses in 1,000,000 people to 6.1 for the same number of people in the last decade.

What role did the pandemic play?

The CDC report on the increase in venereal diseases explains part of the process was due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The infectiologist Maria Alcaide expressed it clearly:

The COVID-19 pandemic may have contributed to the increase in STI cases, as there was less access to education, testing, and treatment.

~ Dr. Maria Alcaide ~

A note published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases states that syphilis cases increased after the pandemic because it was an aggravating factor. In other words, there were already situations that favored contagion, which were exacerbated by confinement and all that it brought.

The authors highlight the situation of women. In them, there was a notable increase in cases during confinement, which resulted in more babies with congenital syphilis. It’s assumed that the impossibility of moving freely to attend check-ups promptly precipitated the problem.

How should we take care of ourselves?

Preventing sexually transmitted diseases is always a priority, even though we now know that cases of syphilis are on the rise. Measures that have already been scientifically proven reduce our risk of infection and are within reach. Here are some of them.

Know more: 11 Sexually Transmitted Diseases You Need to Know About

1. Use a condom

Condoms are the most effective method available to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Of course, this prevention is limited to the area covered by the condom.

That’s why you should take extra precautions if you have oral sex, for example. It’s also necessary to know the correct way to put it on, in order to maximize its efficiency.

Experts continue to emphasize that condoms are at the center of preventive strategies. Indeed, laxity in its use is one of the explanations as to why syphilis cases are on the rise in the U.S.

2. Get tested

A syphilis infection can go undetected. The initial lesion is painless and is sometimes hidden in the genitals or ignored by the patient.

In this reality, a blood test for syphilis is very useful. There are situations in which the analysis is promoted, as it is with pregnant women in their trimestral control. But if you have any questions, the best thing to do is to ask your doctor.

With a simple blood test, it’s possible to do a biochemical test which, if positive, will allow early treatment. Syphilis can be cured with known and effective antibiotics, such as penicillin.

3. Don’t use drugs

Although it may seem that they’re distant realities, the truth is that there is an association. According to studies, recreational drug users are among the groups with the highest risk of contracting syphilis. The Brazilian Society of Tropical Medicine recalls that, according to their evidence, drug addiction is a risk factor for sexually transmitted diseases.

Again, CDC experts have commented in their report that the increase in opioid use in the United States is partly responsible for the increase in syphilis cases. All this is apart from the other deleterious effects that drugs have on physical and mental health.

A social responsibility

There’s no single solution to reduce the cases of syphilis and venereal diseases. The CDC urges joint action:

We can pick up the pieces in our quest to reverse the trends by moving forward with a new approach that employs holistic and coordinated care to address co-occurring epidemics and health disparities.

~ Leandro Mena, Director of STD Prevention at the CDC ~

Get informed and take care of yourself. Simple actions that prevent and improve quality of life.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.