Syphilis Cases Soar Among Heterosexual Couples in 2022
Gynecologist using vaginal swab for STD testing. Woman in gynecological chair

CDC Reported That Syphilis Cases Soared Among Heterosexual Couples in 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly a quarter of syphilis cases in the U.S. were diagnosed in women in 2022, signaling an “alarming” trend in the sexually transmitted infection’s spread among heterosexual couples.

The number of syphilis cases reported in women increased by 19.5% in 2022, reaching a total of 14,652 cases of primary and secondary syphilis. This surge accounted for approximately a quarter of the 59,016 cases nationwide, a significant rise from the 14% reported in women back in 2018.

Health officials have been sounding the alarm about the worsening syphilis epidemic for years. The CDC’s final figures for 2022 reveal the largest number diagnosed nationwide since the 1950s. While men who have sex with men still constitute a disproportionately large share of cases, the overall trend is concerning.

The increase in syphilis rates since 2011, particularly among Black and American Indian populations, underscores the need for improved diagnosis, treatment efforts, and strategies to address contributing factors like substance abuse leading to risky behaviors.

Syphilis, caused by the bacteria T. pallidum, initially presents as a painless ulcer. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications, including neurosyphilis. Congenital syphilis rates have also increased, posing a potential threat to babies born to infected mothers.

While syphilis cases surge, there’s a noteworthy divergence in trends compared to some other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Chlamydia cases remained flat in 2022, and gonorrhea rates dropped by 8.7% from the previous year, prompting cautious optimism from health officials.

The CDC’s final tally for 2022 comes amid warnings that 2023’s STI case counts could worsen due to funding cuts and shortages of key treatments. The National Coalition of STD Directors expressed concern over the ongoing shortage of Pfizer’s Bicillin L-A, a recommended treatment for congenital syphilis, and the impact of layoffs among federally-funded public health workers.

In response to the crisis, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the mobilization of a new task force to address the syphilis resurgence. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra emphasized the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to eliminating health care disparities and tackling the urgent syphilis issue.

As the nation grapples with a surging syphilis epidemic, the need for targeted public health initiatives, increased funding, and access to essential treatments becomes more critical than ever. We will continue to monitor this developing situation and provide updates on efforts to curb the spread of syphilis.

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