U.S. syphilis cases have reached highest levels since the 1950s, creating a critical public health need, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control released Jan. 30.
Reported syphilis cases increased 80% in the United States between 2018 and 2022, (from 115,000 to more than 207,000), compounding a decades-long upward trend.
If untreated, syphilis can seriously damage the heart and brain and can cause blindness, deafness, and paralysis. When transmitted during pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage, lifelong medical issues, and infant death. Read more about the report and federal response to stop the surging syphilis epidemic.
“In the United States, syphilis was close to elimination in the 1990s, so we know it’s possible to reverse this epidemic,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “I have hope for innovative prevention tools – such as a pill after sex that prevents STIs, and better tests for syphilis – but they will only be successful if they reach the people who will benefit. And that is going to require coordinated and sustained efforts at the federal, state, and local levels.”
In response to the surging number of syphilis and congenital syphilis cases nationwide, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is taking action to slow the spread with a focus on those most significantly impacted. Through the establishment of the National Syphilis and Congenital Syphilis Syndemic (NSCSS) Federal Task Force, the Department is utilizing its agencies, its expertise, and its stakeholder network to respond to the U.S. syphilis and congenital syphilis epidemic. The actions of the Task Force leverage federal resources to reduce rates, promote health equity, engage impacted communities and direct resources to support those most impacted.
“The syphilis crisis in our country is unacceptable. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to addressing this urgent issue and using all available means to eliminate disparities in our health care system,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “These actions we are taking will help ensure we are improving outcomes for birthing parents and newborns. We must prevent more deaths caused by congenital syphilis, an entirely preventable disease.”
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) CDC report published Jan, 30, 207,255 total syphilis cases were reported in the United States in 2022, representing an 80% increase since 2018 and continuing a decades-long upward trend. Cases in nearly every demographic group and region increased, as did disparities in the burden of disease among certain racial and ethnic populations.
According to the report, more than 3,700 cases of congenital syphilis were documented among newborns in 2022–more than 10 times the number diagnosed in 2012.
If untreated, syphilis can seriously damage the heart and brain and can cause blindness, deafness, and paralysis. When transmitted during pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage, lifelong medical issues, and infant death.
CDC recommends screening all pregnant people at least once during their pregnancy and an individual, risk-based approach to syphilis screening for others. For many sexually active people, the most significant risk factor for syphilis is living in a county with high rates of syphilis.
The CDC recommends doctors and health departments offer syphilis testing to all sexually active people between the ages of 15 and 44 years if the syphilis rate for the county is higher than 4.6 per 100,000 persons.
The rates for counties in South Central Florida are:
The Florida county with the highest rate per 100,000 population in Florida is Franklin County with 194.
In counties with small populations, a few cases can mean a high rate per 100,000. For example, Franklin County’s census population is 12,500, so 24 individual cases per year would result in a rate of 194 per 100,000 people.
What does that mean for counties around Lake Okeechobee?
• Palm Beach County has about 1.49 million residents, so a rate of 6.7 per 100,000 people would be about 100 individual cases per year.
• Okeechobee County has a census population of about 40,500 so a rate of 15.7 per 100,000 would be about 6 cases per year.
• Hendry County has a census population of about 41,000, so a rate of 13.6 per 100,000 would be about 5 cases per year.
• Martin County has a census population of about 162,000, so a rate of 4.8 per 100,000 would be about 8 cases per year.