Syphilis Strikes Back
Why Are We Talking About Syphilis in 2017?
Once nearing elimination, national data highlight that syphilis is thriving. In 2015, the United States experienced the highest number and rate of reported primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis cases in more than 20 years.
During 2014-2015, syphilis rates increased in every region, a majority of age groups, and across almost every race/ethnicity. Men in general, and gay and bisexual men specifically, continue to face the highest levels of syphilis. In recent years, syphilis has also risen among women. One of the most disturbing trends is back-to-back years of increasing rates among babies who were miscarried, stillborn, or born with syphilis, also known as congenital syphilis. An increase in reports where syphilis affects the eye (i.e., ocular syphilis) has also occurred across the U.S. These cases can, and have, led to permanent blindness.
Syphilis’s resurgence highlights its ability to affect many communities at anytime and anywhere. We cannot allow this to continue, so beginning this month, we encourage everyone to disrupt syphilis!
Wait, What is Syphilis Again?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can have very serious complications when left untreated, but it is simple to cure with the right treatment.
- It’s divided into three stages with primary and secondary (P&S) being the most infectious stages of the disease.
- Without appropriate treatment, long-term infection can result in severe medical problems affecting the heart, brain, and other organs of the body.
- Having syphilis also makes it easier to get HIV.
Syphilis by the Numbers
In 2000, syphilis reached historic lows with less than 6,000 cases reported to CDC and a rate of only 2.1 cases per 100,000 people. Compare that to CDC’s most recent STD Surveillance Report in 2015 when there were:
- 23,872 reported cases of P&S syphilis,
- 8.0 cases per 100,000 people, and
- a 19% rate increase since 2014.
The 2015 report also found that the highest rates of P&S syphilis were among men aged 25-29, among men in the West and in the South, and among African American men.
More on This Year's Theme
The theme, Syphilis Strikes Back, and the artwork throughout this website was inspired by events during the 1940s and the Work Projects Administration (WPA) posters designed to publicize health issues – including syphilis – in several states and the District of Columbia. This was an era when syphilis’s destruction was at its peak, but it was also a period that ushered in antibiotics and a successful push to halt the disease. Since that time, we’ve also learned a lot of lessons about the importance of understanding things like health equity and reducing stigma among communities and individuals. So while the graphics across the STD Awareness Month website pay homage to the look and feel of the WPA era, they also contain current public health messages seeking to raise awareness, help healthcare providers protect their patients, and empower individuals to take charge of their health.
- Page last reviewed: March 13, 2017
- Page last updated: March 13, 2017
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