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Report: ‘Swift action is urgently needed to slow the curve’ of syphilis epidemic

Crystal Graham
healthcare
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A new report shows that syphilis and chlamydia numbers have climbed to record highs in the United States – with the rise possibly linked to COVID-19 and the reluctance of many to seek screenings and treatment during the outbreak.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its “2022 Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Surveillance Report” which found more than 2.5 million cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia in the United States.

The report also showed an 80 percent increase in syphilis over five years.

The 2022 numbers in the report do not reflect the impact of the shortage of congenital syphilis treatment drug Bicillin L-A, which started last spring. It also does not reflect the impact of the STI workforce cuts in the debt ceiling deal last summer.

According to an announcement accompanying the report from Laura Bachmann, “swift action is urgently needed to slow the curve” of the U.S. syphilis epidemic. Bachmann is the acting director of the division of STD prevention for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bachmann said she is encouraged by the first ever National Syphilis and Congenital Syphilis Syndemic Federal Task Force mobilization.

The National Coalition of STD Directors released a statement demanding funding for screening, treatment and prevention services.

“The CDC’s latest STI data shows that our nation is facing a rapidly deteriorating public health crisis with real lives at stake,” the statement read. “STIs – especially syphilis – will continue to spiral out of control until the administration and Congress provide communities with the funding they need to provide the most basic screening, treatment, and prevention services.”

“The 2022 surveillance data shows millions of people were impacted by entirely preventable infections. Increasingly, though, women and babies have been forced to bear the most devastating consequences of the nation’s STI epidemic as syphilis and congenital syphilis continue to rage with treatment shortages, workforce cuts and attacks on women’s healthcare only adding to the fire.

“The newly announced federal syphilis task force and the limited import of Extencilline are steps in the right direction, but the nation needs a response that fully meets the moment: one that pairs the new attention from HHS with the resources communities need to restore last year’s public health workforce cuts and implement the basic screening and treatment services HHS recommends.

“The 2022 data shows hundreds of lives lost and millions of infections, but it doesn’t yet reflect the workforce cuts and drug shortages states have experienced in the time since – the reality is that the 2023 data will be worse.

“The Biden administration deserves praise for putting the spotlight on the most severe consequence of the nation’s STI epidemic – congenital syphilis – but we know all too well that federal leadership will prove hollow if communities don’t have the funding they need to get the job done.”

Congenital syphilis is an infection that is passed from a pregnant person who has syphilis to the fetus during pregnancy. Congenital syphilis can cause stillbirth and infant death or result in lifelong disabilities. Congenital syphilis is preventable with timely testing and treatment with the antibiotic Bicillin L-A.

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.