Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can have very serious complications when left untreated, but it is simple to cure with the right treatment. The disease is 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.
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.
In 2000, syphilis had 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.