The resurgence of Syphilis, a treatable disease thought to have been eradicated in the 20th century, poses a major threat to US public health.

What is Syphilis?

Syphilis is a highly contagious disease, caused by the bacterium, Treponema pallidum. It is classified as a genital ulcerative disease, a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Syphilis is known to cause arthritis, blindness, brain damage, sores, and rashes, among many other complications that can often be confused for other illnesses.  

The first reported cases of syphilis are often traced back to Spanish conquistadors’ first contact with Native Americans. The result was an epidemic that swept over Europe and the Americas. For centuries the disease found no effective treatment. However in the 1940’s, when antibiotic penicillin was developed and administered to those infected with the disease, Syphilis rates decreased significantly, until the 1990’s, in the midst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Despite significant success via advancements in medical treatment over the past century, since 2000, the US has seen a steady increase of reported cases of the disease. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2014, the number of cases reported nationwide, was the highest recorded since the development of penicillin.  

How has Syphilis Propagated?

While the medical treatment of the disease remains a viable option, there are many social and political reasons why the rate of Syphilis has reached 20,000 cases just last year.

Government vs. Public Health

Traditionally, since the 1980’s, the implementation of small health and STD-screening clinics and centers have been an effective frontier in the screening, prevention and administration of the necessary treatment for Syphilis. However, since 2005, the CDC experienced a budget cut of more than $1 billion, and now the Senate is approving even more budget cuts to local STD prevention funding as part of an appropriations bill, which covers funding to the CDC, leading to fewer screening resources, loss of health-care jobs and more cases of undiagnosed and untreated cases of Syphilis, and other STD’s.

History Repeating

During the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the common denominator of the spreading of the virus was sexual intercourse between two men. Today, in the wake of a great push for LGBT equality and representation, the LGBT community has become wider and more integrated part of American society.  The rate of Syphilis in men who have sexual intercourse with other men is also among the highest percentage of Syphilis cases in the US, at around 8,000 cases in 2014. Thus, lack of condom use among sexual partners, particularly men, contribute to the highest rate of Syphilis cases in the US.

Tinder and Immigration

According to state-level officials and medical communities, 21st century hook-up and dating apps, such as Tinder or Grindr, are to blame for the rise of Syphilis.  As society moves toward a more open relationship with casual sex with people whose sexual history they might not know, we can expect to see a rise in all STD’s. This practice coupled with mass immigration and an increasingly diversified population, could mean that different strains of the disease, and an increasing unawareness of infected individuals are contributing to more uncertainty about symptoms and origin.

Treatment & Solutions

If diagnoses, even in the late stages, Syphilis can be successfully treated with penicillin G. The CDC recommends management of sexual partners and the use of condoms for effective prevention of STD’s.  For more information on diagnoses and treatments, visit this link.

For effective prevention on the state level of sexual health-care facilitation, urge your congressman or congresswoman to vote for the approval of increased funding to the CDC, particularly in STD funding.