Syphilis cases are at 74-year high in U.S.

An infectious-diseases specialist explains why these infections have seen a nearly 80% increase since 2018.

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According to recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 207,000 cases of syphilis were detected in 2022 — the highest national case count since 1950 and a nearly 80% increase in incidence since 2018. 

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

“In Seattle and King County, and at Harborview, 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,” she 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 occurs during pregnancy when a mother with syphilis passes the infection to her fetus. Risks from 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 United States in 2022, the CDC reports. 

“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. 

Download broadcast-ready soundbites with Ramchandani on syphilis trends, prevention and treatment. 

Additional resources: 

UW Medicine