Syphilis Is a Public Health Priority

As a sexually transmitted infection (STI), syphilis is a public health threat in the United States and has reached crisis level. Syphilis cases in the United States have reached their highest levels since the 1950s, and sadly, syphilis cases among newborns have increased more than tenfold in the past 10 years. So this STI Awareness WeekI joined partners across the country to raise awareness about syphilis and congenital syphilis and what people, doctors, and organizations can do to reduce it.

Syphilis is a serious infection. If left untreated, it can damage the heart and brain, leading to blindness, deafness, and paralysis. When transmitted and untreated during pregnancy, it can lead to miscarriages, lifelong medical problems, and even infant death. It is curable with antibiotics and detection, early diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent complications and transmission.

Unfortunately, prevention and treatment services do not reach everyone who needs them. For example, according to a recent Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)9 in 10 cases of congenital syphilis could have been prevented with timely testing and appropriate treatment during pregnancy in 2022. Gaps in testing and treatment were present in the majority of cases across all races, ethnicities, and regions of the Bureau from the US Census

In response to this crisis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) formed a multi-agency National Task Force on Syphilis and Congenital Syphilis. The task force’s goal is to leverage federal resources to improve syphilis prevention and treatment while reducing health disparities.

The task force has undertaken numerous actions, including raising awareness about this crisis, holding briefings with external partners to identify and maximize opportunities for collaboration, convening workshops to address disparities and focus on research strategies, and work with agencies to issue funding flexibility letters to syphilis care recipients.

As we continue to implement these and other strategies, these are just some of the steps we can all take:

  • Individuals: Have open and honest conversations with your doctor and your partners about sexual health and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Find out if syphilis and other STI tests are for you, and if you need treatment for an STI, work with your sexual partners to make sure they get treatment too.
  • Pregnant people: See a doctor as soon as possible if you think you are pregnant to make sure you and your baby are healthy during pregnancy. Ask your doctor about getting tested for syphilis at your first visit, and if you have syphilis, get treatment as quickly as possible and also talk to your partner(s) about treatment.
  • Doctors: collect a sexual history with all your patients as part of routine medical care and look for ways to reduce stigma and create a welcoming clinical environment. Test your patients for syphilis and other STIs such as recommended by CDC. You can access STI Treatment Guidelines at CDC.gov to ensure appropriate treatment and care. If you need more information about syphilis, use the National STD Curriculum and approach the STD Clinical Consultation Network if you need help managing your patients. He National Network of Training Centers in Clinical STD Prevention It can also help provide education about syphilis and other STIs.
  • Organizations: Continue to spread the word that syphilis is preventable and treatable and expand efforts to reduce the stigma related to STIs that prevents many people from accessing the health care they need.

Join me in raising awareness about syphilis and other STIs by sharing this information with your networks, this STI Awareness Week and beyond.

Together we can bend the curve of syphilis and its associated complications. I look forward to achieving our goals for syphilis and other STIs together.

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