Syphilis rates jump nearly a third in 2021, CDC says

VSCases of major sexually transmitted infections rose to more than 2.5 million in 2021, U.S. health officials said in a revised final report, led by syphilis rates that rose by more than a third from compared to the previous year.

Syphilis rates rose about 32% in 2021, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a preliminary report last year that they expected a 26% increase. Cases in infants, who can be infected during pregnancy, have also jumped by about a third, leading to 220 stillbirths and infant deaths in 2021. These cases have increased every year for the past decade, according to the CDC. Congenital infections can cause serious disease in infants, including bone deformities, blindness and hearing loss.

Other sexually transmitted infections have also increased, with gonorrhea and chlamydia rates each increasing by about 4% from 2020 to 2021. Chlamydia rates remain above pre-COVID levels, raising concerns that testing for often asymptomatic disease has been disrupted by the pandemic. Gay and bisexual men, as well as black and Native American communities, continue to be disproportionately affected, the CDC found.

“The STI epidemic in the United States shows no signs of abating,” Leandro Mena, CDC director of sexually transmitted disease prevention, said in a statement. “The reasons for the continued increases are manifold, as are the solutions.”

The surge in STI cases reinforces the need for accessible testing and treatment, as well as the continued development of new vaccines and post-exposure medications, the CDC said.

“It will take many of us working together to use new and existing tools effectively, to increase access to quality sexual health care services for more people, and to encourage continued innovation and prioritizing prevention and treatment of STIs in this country,” Mena said.

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