Syphilis cases at 74-year high in U.S., CDC says

Recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there were more than 207,000 cases of syphilis in the U.S. in 2022, the highest national case count sine 1950.

The CDC also noted a nearly 80% increase in incidence since 2018.

Infectious-diseases specialist at UW Medicine, Dr. Meena Ramchandani, says syphilis transmission is most prominent among men who have sex with men, but women are also contracting the infection with increasing frequency.

"In Seattle and King County, and at Harborview Medical Center, we are seeing a great increase in the number of syphilis cases. In the last two years, we've seen an increase in women by 90% each year in the incidence of syphilis from 2020 to 2022," Dr. Ramchandani said. "With that increase in syphilis that we're seeing in women and in persons who can become pregnant, we have this increase in congenital syphilis cases, and that's a huge problem."

Congenital syphilis is when a mother with syphilis passes the infection to her fetus. Risks of congenital syphilis include miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, brain and nerve problems or deformed bones.

There were over 3,700 cases of congenital syphilis in the U.S. in 2022, according to the CDC.

"I think that there needs to be increased awareness and increased testing, because syphilis is affecting a lot of populations," she said. As for treatment, "Penicillin is the drug of choice, and thankfully syphilis is still susceptible to penicillin. And so, formulas of penicillin can be used to treat and cure syphilis," Ramchandani said.