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The US hasn’t seen syphilis numbers this high since 1950. Other STD rates are down or flat

The U.S. is grappling with a persistent syphilis epidemic, as a new federal government report on sexually transmitted diseases in adults reveals a troubling 9% increase in infectious syphilis cases in 2022. On a brighter note, there’s an unexpected downturn in new gonorrhea cases, marking the first decline in a decade.

While health officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are puzzled by the simultaneous rise in syphilis and fall in gonorrhea, they caution that it’s too early to confirm a new trend for the latter.

The spotlight remains on syphilis, deemed more dangerous though less common than gonorrhea or chlamydia. Notably, it’s extending its reach beyond its historical impact on gay and bisexual men, affecting an increasing number of heterosexual individuals and even newborns.

In 2022, the total syphilis cases surpassed 207,000, a 17% surge and the highest count since 1950. This includes all stages of the disease, highlighting the urgency for comprehensive intervention.

Syphilis, a bacterial disease starting with painless genital sores, can lead to severe complications if untreated, such as paralysis, hearing loss, dementia, and death.

Around 59,000 cases in 2022 involved the most infectious forms of syphilis, impacting both women and heterosexual men. Dr. Philip Chan of Brown University emphasizes the potential unknowing spread in the cisgender heterosexual population due to inadequate testing.

The report underscores a rise in infectious syphilis across racial and ethnic groups, with American Indian and Alaska Native individuals experiencing the highest rates. South Dakota stands out with the highest infectious syphilis rate, driven by an outbreak in the Native American community, further exacerbated by limited testing and treatment during the pandemic.

To tackle the surge, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiated a syphilis task force, focusing on high-rate areas like South Dakota and 12 other states.

Examining other common STDs, chlamydia cases remained relatively stable from 2021 to 2022, while surprisingly, gonorrhea rates decreased in about 40 states. Disruptions in STD testing during the COVID-19 pandemic might explain the chlamydia rate drop in 2020, prompting health experts to delve into the reasons behind the recent decline in gonorrhea cases.

Despite the positive shift in gonorrhea rates, the CDC emphasizes the need for ongoing scrutiny to understand the dynamics and ensure a sustained decrease.

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