Syphilis Strikes Back of STDMonth Campaign 2019

Syphilis Strikes Back of STDMonth

Syphilis Stats At-A-Glance

  • In 2000, syphilis reached historic lows in the United States.
  • In 2017, there were more than 100,000 cases of syphilis reported to CDC, with 30,644 reported cases of primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis.

From 2013-2017:

  • Rates of P&S syphilis went up 73% overall, 66% among men, and 156% among women.
  • Congenital syphilis cases more than doubled.

Syphilis Strikes Back

Syphilis Strikes Back

Syphilis Strikes Back is a campaign devoted exclusively to promoting the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of syphilis.

While the campaign artwork was inspired by the WPA’s 1940s-era postersExternal that publicized health issues, it has been updated with current public health messages.

The Syphilis Strikes Back campaign aims to raise awareness about syphilis, help healthcare providers protect their patients, and empower individuals to take charge of their health.

What is Syphilis Again?

Syphilis is an STD that can have very serious complications when left untreated, but it is simple to cure with the right treatment.

  • It’s divided into three stages with primary and secondary (P&S) being the most infectious stages of the disease.
  • Without appropriate treatment, long-term infection can result in severe medical problems affecting the heart, brain, and other organs of the body.
  • Having syphilis also makes it easier to get HIV.

Why Are We Talking About Syphilis Now?

Once nearing elimination, syphilis is surging in the United States. In 2017, the United States experienced the highest number and rate of reported P&S syphilis cases in more than 20 years.

From 2013-2017, syphilis rates increased in every region, a majority of age groups, and in almost every race/ethnicity. Men in general, and gay and bisexual men specifically, continue to face the highest levels of syphilis.

In recent years, syphilis has also risen among women. One of the most disturbing trends is the continued increase in syphilis cases among babies, also known as congenital syphilis.

Gay & Bisexual Men Deserve the Best Health Possible

Syphilis Strikes Back
Gay and Bisexual Men Remain Hardest-Hit by Syphilis

Gay and bisexual men are experiencing rates of syphilis not seen since before the HIV epidemic. Between 2016 and 2017, 58% of primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis cases were among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, and data suggest that an average of half of gay and bisexual men who have syphilis are also infected with HIV. Previous research also finds that gay and bisexual men of color are particularly affected.

STD Prevention Partners: Syphilis may be making a comeback, but there are actions your community members can take – and resources they can use – to help reduce its impact.

This page includes information on how syphilis is affecting gay and bisexual men and outlines specific prevention information for gay and bisexual men and their healthcare providers. You can tailor the content on this page to your audiences.

What Gay and Bisexual Men Can Do to Prevent Syphilis

If you are sexually active, here are some ways to lower your chances of getting syphilis:

  • Be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and has negative STD test results.
  • Reduce your number of sex partners; however, it’s still important that you and your partner get tested and that you share your test results with one another.
  • Use latex condoms the right way from start to finish every time you have sex. Condoms prevent the spread of syphilis by preventing contact with a syphilis sore. Sometimes sores can occur in areas not covered by a condom, so you could still get syphilis from contact with these sores, even if you are wearing a condom.
  • Get tested – it’s the only way to know if you have syphilis. CDC recommends all sexually active gay and bisexual men be tested for specific STDs, including syphilis, at least once a year, and more frequently for those who have multiple or anonymous partners (i.e., at 3- to 6-month intervals). Visit CDC’s STD testing recommendations page to learn more.
  • The most reliable way to avoid getting syphilis or other STDs is to not have anal, vaginal, or oral sex.
  • Talk about it! Silence helps to fuel the spread of STDs.

If you test positive, syphilis can be cured with the right medicine from your healthcare provider. It’s also important that your sex partner receives treatment.

Even after you’ve been successfully treated, you can still get syphilis again. That means you should continue to take actions that will lower your risk of getting infected again.

What Healthcare Providers Can Do to Protect Their Patients

YOU PLAY A PIVOTAL ROLE IN PREVENTING SYPHILIS by keeping your patients safe and by stopping further transmission of syphilis within the community.

For sexually active patients:

  • Take routine sexual historiesCdc-pdf, including regularly asking gay and bisexual men about symptoms consistent with common STDs.
  • Talk with them about prevention methods.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations to test gay and bisexual men for syphilis at least once a year, and every 3-6 months for those at increased risk. This includes men with a history of syphilis infection, incarceration, drug use, or multiple/concurrent partners, and those who live in areas with high rates of syphilis.

Diagnosing and treating syphilis can be complicated. If you have questions, follow-up with your state or local health department or a local infectious disease doctor. We also have several other resources that can help.

If your patient is diagnosed with syphilis, take immediate action. Men diagnosed with syphilis should be treated with benzathine penicillin immediately.

All cases of syphilis should also be reported to your state or local health department right away. CDC recommends reporting within 24 hours.

  • Consider follow-up serologic testing for gay and bisexual men (based on CDC’s STD treatment guidelines) due to data indicating they may be at risk for repeat infection.
  • Advise your patient to tell their sex partner(s) about the infection and encourage them to get tested and treated to avoid reinfection.

Don’t forget this special consideration when serving your patients:

Early syphilis increases the likelihood of a patient acquiring HIV, so patients diagnosed with P&S syphilis should also be tested for HIV.

If you are serving patients in a geographic area where the HIV prevalence is high, retest for acute HIV in three months if the first test was negative.

Women and Children Deserve the Best Health Possible

Syphilis Strikes Back

Syphilis has increased among women in recent years. Disturbingly, it has also increased among pregnant women and newborns.

What is congenital syphilis (CS)?

CS is a disease that occurs when a mother with syphilis passes the infection on to her baby during pregnancy.

How can CS affect my baby?

CS can have major health impacts on your baby. How CS affects your baby’s health depends on how long you had syphilis and if—or when—you got treatment for the infection. CS can cause

  • Miscarriage (losing the baby during pregnancy).
  • Stillbirth (a baby born dead).
  • Prematurity (a baby born early).
  • Low birth weight.
  • Death shortly after birth.

Up to 40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborn, or die from the infection as a newborn.

STD Prevention Partners: Syphilis may be making a comeback, but there are actions your community members can take – and resources they can use – to help reduce its impact.

This page includes information on how syphilis is affecting women, pregnant women, and newborns and outlines specific prevention information for women and their healthcare providers. You can tailor the content on this page to your audiences.

What Women Can Do to Prevent Syphilis

Knowledge is key! Know what puts you at risk and how to avoid and/or lower those risks

If you are sexually active, here are some ways to lower your chances of getting syphilis:

  • Be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and has negative STD test results.
  • Reduce your number of sex partners. It’s still important that you and your partner get tested, and that you share your test results with one another.
  • Use latex condoms the right way from start to finish every time you have sex. Condoms prevent the spread of syphilis by preventing contact with a sore. Sometimes sores can occur in areas not covered by a condom, so you could still get syphilis from contact with these sores, even if you are wearing a condom.
  • The most reliable way to avoid getting syphilis or other STDs is to not have anal, vaginal, or oral sex.

Talk about it! Silence helps to fuel the spread of STDs.

  • Have an honest and open talk with your healthcare provider about your sexual history and ask whether you should be tested for syphilis or other STDs.
  • Talk with your partnerExternal about sex and STDs BEFORE you have sex.

If you test positive, syphilis can be treated with the right medicine from your healthcare provider. It’s also important that your sex partner(s) receive treatment.

Even after you’ve been successfully treated, you can still get syphilis again. That means that you should continue to take actions that will lower your risk of getting infected again.

Additional steps are needed to protect you and your baby if you are pregnant.

What Pregnant Women Can Do to Protect Their Health and Their Baby’s Health

If you are pregnant, you should be tested for syphilis the first time you see your doctor for healthcare during pregnancy. If you don’t get tested at your first visit, ask your doctor about getting tested during a future checkup.

Your doctor may also want to test you again later in your pregnancy and when your baby is born, depending on your risk for infection.

If you test positive for syphilis, you will need to be treated right away. Don’t wait for your next visit. The medicine used to cure syphilis is safe for you and your baby to receive during your pregnancy.

It’s also important that your sex partner(s) receive treatment.

What Healthcare Providers Can Do to Protect Their Patients

YOU PLAY A PIVOTAL ROLE IN PREVENTING SYPHILIS by keeping your patients—and, if they’re pregnant, their babies— safe, and by stopping further transmission of syphilis within the community.

For sexually active patients:

There are specific recommendations for women who are pregnant or who have just given birth:

  • Screen all pregnant women for syphilis at their first prenatal visit. Some women may be in the asymptomatic stage of syphilis. Women without symptoms can still spread the infection to their unborn babies.
  • Pregnant women at high risk should be rescreened early in their third trimester and again at delivery.
  • This includes women with a history of syphilis infection, incarceration, drug use, or multiple or concurrent partners, and those who live in areas with high rates of syphilis.

Before discharging any newborn from the hospital, make sure that the mother has been tested for syphilis at least once during her pregnancy or at delivery.

If the test is positive, ensure that both mother and baby are evaluated appropriately before discharge and, if necessary, treated. Also, if a woman delivers a stillborn infant, she should be tested for syphilis.

Diagnosing and treating syphilis can be complicated. If you have questions, follow-up with your state or local health department or a local infectious disease doctor. We also have several other resources that can help.

If your patient is diagnosed with syphilis, take immediate action. Pregnant women diagnosed with syphilis should be treated with benzathine penicillin immediately. Treatment at least 30 days prior to delivery is likely to prevent congenital syphilis.

All cases of syphilis and congenital syphilis should be reported to your state or local health department right away. CDC recommends reporting within 24 hours.

Always advise your patients to tell their sex partner(s) about their diagnosis and encourage them to get tested and treated to avoid reinfection.

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Written by STDsSTIs

STDsSTIs is here to help people think, discuss and take responsible action on some of life’s biggest decisions – ones that often don’t get enough attention. We help raise the tough questions and ask young people to consider what really makes sense for them. Together, we can help Coloradans lead healthier lives and raise healthier families.

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