HHS confirms syphilis epidemic, unveils response

As U.S. syphilis rates reach the highest levels since the 1950s, HHS deemed the public health issue as a "surging epidemic" and rolled out resources to stop the sexually transmitted infection's decadeslong upward trend. 

Congenital syphilis cases rose from 335 in 2012 to 3,761 in 2022 — a tenfold increase. Nearly 90% of the cases reported in 2022 were preventable, and a majority of the cases were among patients who tested positive for syphilis during pregnancy but didn't receive adequate or timely treatment, according to the CDC.

The STI can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity and infant death shortly after birth. Babies born with congenital syphilis are also susceptible to deformed bones, severe anemia, brain and nerve problems, and meningitis.  

In 2023, HHS published new resources to vulnerable populations, including Native Americans and men who have sex with men. So far this year, the U.S. allowed the temporary importation of the antibiotic Extencilline amid a shortage of penicillin G benzathine. 

HHS is also planning to "leverage funding flexibilities for grant programs to enhance use of grant funds, including staff time, for STI counseling, testing, and treatment services," the department said Jan. 30. It also is creating considerations for point-of-care testing among vulnerable communities. 

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