STDs in the U.S. Are 'Out of Control' After Syphilis Cases Spiked 26% Last Year

·2 min read
Karolyn Schrage, executive director of the Choices Medical Services clinic in Joplin, Mo., says that pregnant women, young men and teens are part of the rapidly growing number of syphilis patients she sees. (Bruce Stidham for Kaiser Health News)
Karolyn Schrage, executive director of the Choices Medical Services clinic in Joplin, Mo., says that pregnant women, young men and teens are part of the rapidly growing number of syphilis patients she sees. (Bruce Stidham for Kaiser Health News)

Bruce Stidham/Kaiser Health News

The U.S. is seeing a surge in STD cases across the country, and health officials are asking for increased prevention efforts and new treatment protocols.

"It is imperative that we ... work to rebuild, innovate, and expand (STD) prevention in the U.S.," Dr. Leandro Mena, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a speech Monday at a medical conference on sexually transmitted diseases, per the Associated Press.

Syphilis cases increased 26% last year, according to the outlet. In 2021, the rate of syphilis cases reached its highest level in 20 years, and the total number of cases hit its highest since 1948. Gonorrhea has been increasing for several years as well.

HIV cases are also on the rise, with an increase of 16% last year. David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, said the situation is "out of control," per the AP.

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In a report released in April, the CDC found that STDs in the U.S. decreased during the early months of the pandemic but resurged by the end of 2020. Reported cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis surpassed 2019 levels, while chlamydia declined, the agency found, "likely due to decreased STD screening and under-diagnosis during the pandemic."

HIV infection
HIV infection

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Prior to the pandemic, syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia cases hit a record high for four consecutive years, the CDC reported.

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There were nearly 2.3 million diagnosed cases of the three STDs in 2017 based on preliminary data, the CDC said at the time, an increase of over 200,000 from 2016.

"We are sliding backward," Dr. Jonathan Mermin, the director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in a press release at the time. "It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point."