‘Out of control’: 26% rise in cases of syphilis and other STDs in US

A sharp rise in the cases of common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States, in 2021 has reportedly alarmed some health officials and sexual health advocates. According to the data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of infections has increased for several STDs including, gonorrhoea and syphilis while the cases of HIV have also surged. 

The cases of infections like syphilis rose by 26% between 2020 and 2021, with the data indicating at least 52,354 cases of primary and secondary syphilis that were reported last year. This was the highest rate of infections recorded since 1991, while the total number of cases reached its highest since 1948. This is being compared to the 7% rise in syphilis infections between 2019 and 2020. 

According to the data from CDC, the rate of syphilis infections is the greatest among American Indian and Alaska Native persons. While men who have sex with other men are disproportionately affected by these infections. There was an overall 4.4% of increase from 2020 to 2021, in the rates of the three common STDs including chlamydia and gonorrhoea. 

Syphilis particularly can be a concerning infection, as the bacterial disease can surface as genital sores but can worsen over time with severe symptoms and death if left untreated. On the other hand, there was a 16% rise in the cases of HIV last year, reports indicate. “We must work collectively to rebuild, innovate, and expand STI prevention in the US – to close existing gaps, create lasting change and realize this vision,” said CDC’s director of STD prevention, Leandro Mena, in a statement. 
 

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Mena’s remarks were made Monday, during the 2022 STD Prevention Conference, by the CDC and the National Coalition of STD Directors. The conference will be held virtually this year between September 19-22, during which experts reportedly discuss the ongoing epidemics, emerging research and new prevention efforts in the US. 

The cases of syphilis had reached a historic low in the early 2000s, however, since then they have increased almost every year. Additionally, the global outbreak of monkeypox has worsened the situation already deteriorating situation and has further highlighted the gaps in the system concerning the diseases that spread mostly through sex. The executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, David Harvey has reportedly called the situation “out of control”. 

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Mena said that experts are also working on new approaches, such as home-test kits for some STDs which would make it easier for people to know if they have any STDs and take necessary precautions to stop the spread of the infections. 

During an interview, Mike Saag, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama in Birmingham said, “It’s pretty simple. More sexually transmitted infections occur when people are having more unprotected sex.” Reportedly, he indicated that the core part of any effort to stop the spread of STDs must encourage and increase the use of condoms.

Experts have also indicated that there can be several causes for this increase in STDs, some attributing it to inadequate funding which has led to less testing and prevention efforts and the spread may have gotten worse especially during the Covid-19 pandemic when there was a delay in diagnosis and treatment. 

(With inputs from agencies)