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2024-04-15 22:04:02

How Many People Get Syphilis Every Year?

At any given time, millions of people in the United States are dealing with a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Syphilis is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. Approximately how many people get syphilis each year in the United States? Are certain groups of individuals disproportionately impacted? This blog will explore these questions and more.

How Many People Get Syphilis Each Year in the US?

First, let’s start with the basics. How many people have syphilis each year in the United States? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has broken it down by year, looking at all stages of syphilis (primary syphilis, secondary syphilis, latent syphilis, and tertiary syphilis):

So, based on these numbers, syphilis cases have consistently been on the rise year over year, with a 17% increase each year and a 78.9% increase over five years.

Congenital syphilis cases were also broken down. Congenital syphilis occurs when the mother passes the infection to her baby.

Once again, we're seeing a rise in these numbers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — 30.6% over one year and 183.4% across five years.

The numbers are continuing to rise so steadily that many health professionals believe we're in the middle of a syphilis epidemic.

Who is Most Likely to Get Syphilis?

You now know that syphilis is a very common STD, but are certain groups of people more likely to contract it?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that men who have sex with men are at an increased risk of contracting syphilis.

Higher rates are noted among African American and American Indian individuals, which may be explained by socioeconomic barriers to healthcare (e.g., easy access to clinics, affordable treatment options, adequate education, etc.) Women are also at a higher risk of becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases, in general, as are young people between the ages of 15 and 24. This is often because younger people don't get STD testing as recommended and also don't have honest conversations with their partners about sexual health. (The more partners you have, the more often you should get tested.)

Men who have sex with men have the highest rate of syphilis

Additionally, individuals are more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections when they have multiple partners, when their partner has multiple partners, and/or they engage in intercourse without using protection.

Order an STD test today!

Which Stage of Syphilis is Most Contagious?

There's no clear-cut answer here, but let's discuss the various stages of syphilis.

Primary Syphilis

Individuals with primary syphilis are contagious. During this period, sores form wherever the bacteria have entered the body, often around the genital area. In the primary stage, the individual with the infection can very easily pass syphilis to a partner with whom they're engaging in sexual practices.

Because all that is needed is contact with a sore, individuals can spread and contract this STD via vaginal sex, oral sex, and anal sex. The sore may be easily missed because it is typically painless and goes away by itself.

As a side note, this is why you cannot contract syphilis through casual contact with items like toilet seats. This is merely a myth.

Secondary Syphilis

In the secondary stage, individuals with a syphilis infection are still contagious. They might experience rashes somewhere between two and 12 weeks after developing sores. The rash can appear all over the body but commonly shows up on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.

Other common symptoms might include fever, sore throat, fatigue, headaches, weight loss, and swollen lymph nodes.

Even though the rash and other symptoms can resolve spontaneously within a couple of months, the individual is still infected and contagious!

Latent Syphilis

Without treatment, the individual might move on to latent syphilis. By "latent," we mean hidden. An infected person might not show any symptoms during this stage. While this stage commonly occurs after the rashes of secondary syphilis heal, individuals can also experience latent syphilis after the primary stage.

Important note: Latent syphilis can last for years!

During this time, individuals can "relapse." This means that they were previously symptom-free but then started experiencing symptoms again.

When the relapses stop for good, the individual isn't contagious via physical contact. However, they are still infected, and pregnant women can pass syphilis to their babies. Pregnant women with syphilis are more likely to experience a stillbirth. Once born, infected babies can experience complications like low birth weight, bone damage, and anemia.

(Research tells us that 90% of congenital syphilis cases could have been prevented, making STD testing and treatment vital.)

Tertiary Syphilis

Without treatment, this can happen years down the line, although not everyone will experience it. At this point, the disease can cause serious health problems like heart issues, blood vessel complications, blindness, mental health disorders, and even death.

How is Syphilis Fatal?

While syphilis can spread quickly and easily, tertiary syphilis can take decades to hit — possibly 10 to 30 years after the onset of the sexually transmitted infection. Once an individual hits this stage, they can begin experiencing damage to their internal organs, which can ultimately lead to death.

With various laboratory tests, a healthcare provider can determine if the individual is infected and what stage they're in.

Man and woman sitting by a lake and mountains

What is Syphilis Testing Like?

Testing is usually done via a simple blood draw.

eNational Testing offers numerous ways to get screened for syphilis. You can order it as an individual test, and you can also find it in our 8-panel test and our 8-panel test with early HIV detection.

Remember that prevention is key! Having safe sex and also getting tested are crucial to STI prevention. Avoiding infection is important not just for your overall health but for the health of your partners (and their partners). Furthermore, if you plan on having children, staying healthy during pregnancy will be important to protect your little one's health.