Syphilis in the United States

For the better part of a decade, public health officials have decried the increase in Sexually Transmitted Diseases throughout the United States. In some respects, these officials believe they are on the losing end of this struggle. There is good reason for them to worry. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, the levels of all sexually transmitted diseases has steadily risen. While this data point is undoubtedly true, one disease, Syphilis has risen more than any other in the previous twenty-four months.


According to the 2015 study, the levels of Syphilis have risen over 19% according to the CDC. This increase represents a double-digit increase in the incidence levels of Syphilis. The only STD to exhibit such a radical increase was Gonorrhea. Additionally, the CDC stated in its report that at any one time there are over 100 million documented cases of STD’s (specifically Syphilis) present within the United States each year. This new information demonstrates the long-term downward trend of new STD infections has been dramatically reversed.


The Syphilis rate between 2000 and 2001 was the lowest on record since the disease was first tracked in 1941, with an astonishing 2.1 cases per every 100,000 individuals. Now, roughly ten years later, that number has surged to 7.5 cases per 100,000 or an increase of approximately 258%.  The numbers get worse, according to the date for men in the gay and bi-sexual community. Within this subset, the rates of syphilis out pace the norms; a full 82% of all Syphilis cases originate within the gay and bi-sexual male community. This percentage is quite alarming to the CDC as diseases such as Syphilis can lead to greater complications if the infected individual is also battling any form of autoimmune diseases.


The rapid rise in STD rates has lead to the conclusion that current models in place to deter the spreading of these highly communicable diseases are collapsing. According to the 2015 CDC study  more than 20 state level health departments that focus on STD’s have closed over the past year alone. As a result, this creates a lack of services in poor, migrant and rural communities-communities who have seen incidence and prevalence rates of STD’s across the board increase.


Younger individuals are also a high risk group for Syphilis, according to the CDC’s study. Young adults between the ages of 15-24, when most young adults are sexually active, have a three times greater chance at contracting Syphilis. The main reason, says the CDC, is lack of awareness, education, resources and programs designed to educate young adults about the risks, complications and negative consequences surrounding the disease.


Although younger adults and gay/bi-sexual men are the most at risk for contracting disease based on their own behavior; there is a smaller subset of the population whose interactions with this disease are nothing short of heartbreaking.


The states of California and Louisiana have a distinct, yet dubious recognition–both of these states have catastrophic levels of pre-natal and post-natal congenital syphilis. This condition is so rare in the rest of the nation, many physicians are surprised when a new born baby exhibits such radical conditions. In California, for instance, babies born with congenital syphilis exhibit symptoms mirroring late stage Syphilitic infection. These newborns presented severe anemia, fluid filled lungs and rashes covering nearly all of the baby’s body. As a result, many of these newborns live for only a few minutes after delivery-the lucky ones live for anywhere between a couple days to a week.


No mother knowingly gives her unborn child a disease. Nearly all the women who experienced congenital Syphilis in their newborns were unaware they even had the disease and furthermore were unaware they could pass the disease along to their child. Those children who manage to survive being born with congenital Syphilis have a fifty percent greater risk of long-term health risks and complications. Based on data from the California Department of Public Health, California is leading the national trend with increases in both Syphilis in adults and Congenital Syphilis in newborns.   In California, the number of Syphilis cases is projected to increase an additional a staggering 21% with Congenital Syphilis increasing by an additional 4%; this would put the total number of congenital syphilis cases in California to 10%.


California’s Syphilis statistics rank behind only one other state-Louisiana. Louisiana public health officials have determined the states’ Syphilis epidemic among the younger, more rural and poorer elements of that state’s society have reach critical levels.  Specifically, the incidence of Congenital Syphilis in newborns has risen to nearly a full quarter of all newborns in Louisiana have Congenital Syphilis. As a direct and consequential result, the CDC has dispatched researchers, health practitioners and doctors to train and educate practicing OB-GYN’s about the need for and dangers of not being test for Syphilis.


At a basic level, the dramatic rise in incidence and prevalence rates of Syphilis can be contributed to a variety of factors. Decline in awareness, shuttering of public health clinics and an increase in the casual nature of using protection are all factors leading to the conclusion presented by the CDC data. As more younger adults become sexually active at a younger age and report fewer uses of contraceptives there will most likely be another round of increases in the percentages relating to syphilis-both in adults and Congenital.


There are many remedies that can be undertaken to minimize the increase of this debilitating disease. At the federal level, there must be more funding for STD education, awareness and testing. Furthermore, there must be education into the need for protection-if an individual chooses to be sexually active. Additionally, there must be state level initiatives to secure grant funding for STD clinics which can greatly reduce the cases present. Finally, bringing public health services and medical care to resources into poor, migrant and rural areas will also make great strides in reducing the incidence and prevalence rates of this disease.

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