Syphilis cases in the United States rose 10 percent from 2012 to 2013, with gay and bisexual men making up 75 percent of the increase, health officials say.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, 17,357 cases of syphilis were reported in 2013—a rate of 5.5 per 100,000 people.
“There are over 20 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases [STDs] every year in the United States, and they continue to pose a risk of lifelong complications for millions of Americans,” says Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.
Gay and bisexual men are at high risk for syphilis for a variety of reasons. “Some are the high number of sexual partners and sexual networks that create a vicious cycle where the prevalence of syphilis is higher. And that leads to higher incidence, which leads to higher prevalence, and that cycle can increase the frequency of infection,” Dr. Mermin says.
The increase in syphilis cases is cause for alarm, experts say. The sores caused by the STD make it easier to get or give someone HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. If a pregnant woman contracts syphilis, she could miscarry or have a baby with birth defects. In rare cases, syphilis can causes serious health problems or lead to death, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Caught early, syphilis can be cured with antibiotics.
Rates of chlamydia, another STD, fell for the first time in 30 years, with cases concentrated among young women, according to the report. Untreated chlamydia can result in reproductive health issues, including ectopic pregnancy and infertility. Gonorrhea rates remained unchanged.