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U.S. Syphilis Cases Reach 70-Year High

April 12, 2023 – Cases of the sexually transmitted disease syphilis soared in 2021 to the highest total in more than 70 years, a new report says.

Earlier this year, the CDC issued preliminary projections that syphilis rates had made a startling jump from 2020 to 2021. But now that health officials have finalized all of the 2021 data, the increase is worse than what was announced back in March.

In just a 1-year period, from 2020 to 2021, cases increased by 32%, to 176,713, according to newly finalized data from the CDC. That is the highest total number of syphilis cases the U.S. has seen since 1950.

The total number of STD cases in the U.S. in 2021 was 2.5 million, including 1.6 million cases of chlamydia, which was up 4% over the year prior. 

A CDC official labeled the situation an “epidemic.”

“The reasons for the ongoing increases are multifaceted – and so are the solutions,” said Leandro Mena, MD, MPH, director of the CDC’s STD prevention division, in a statement. “It will take many of us working together to effectively use new and existing tools, to increase access to quality sexual healthcare services for more people, and to encourage ongoing innovation and prioritization of STI prevention and treatment in this country.”

Syphilis causes sores and rashes and, left untreated over a long period of time, can cause severe problems in organs, the brain, and the nervous system. Untreated congenital syphilis can lead to stillbirth. The treatment for syphilis is antibiotics.

The CDC called a 32% increase from 2020 to 2021 of congenital syphilis cases “alarming,” reporting that it resulted in 220 stillbirths and infant deaths in 2021.

The rise in STDs during the pandemic has been attributed to decreased attention and resources devoted to sexual health. Opioid use is also considered a contributing factor.

Show Sources


CDC: “U.S. STI Epidemic Showed No Signs of Slowing in 2021 – Cases Continued to Escalate,” “Table 1. Sexually Transmitted Diseases — Reported Cases and Rates of Reported Cases*, United States, 1941–2021,” “Syphilis – CDC Basic Fact Sheet.”

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