The U.S. has seen an uptick in syphilis cases this year, health officials said Thursday.
After declining for several years, a new study in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases found syphilis cases increased 4 percent in the United States between 2014 and 2015, though HIV cases decreased by 16 percent. This marks the first rise in syphilis cases in at least a decade, according to the report.
The numbers of sexual partners who test positive for syphilis after treatment are rising too. Between 2014 and 2015, there were roughly 2,000 cases of people who had three or more partners, or three or more full sexual episodes, who tested positive for syphilis, up from 1,950 the year before. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped conducting annual monitoring of sexual partners involved in syphilis transmission in 2002.
Overall, the number of men who have sex with men who contracted syphilis increased from 2,450 cases in 2014 to 2,750 in 2015, which is an overall rise of 2 percent. Black women were the highest affected group.
Syphilis, which is treatable with antibiotics, can cause several health problems, including damage to the heart or nerves in the testicles, said Dr. G. Richard Lewis, vice president of science and strategy at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “It can be devastating for women, because it can make it very difficult for them to have children,” Lewis said.
Syphilis is easily transmitted through unprotected sex. While antibiotics are available, it is not recommended that women who have had genital syphilis receive sexual or intimate partner screening because of the risk of spreading disease in the future.
Because it is very common, it can be hard to find out if you have syphilis because it is silent for some time and early symptoms may not be obvious. Syphilis may just cause a rash, though it can also cause low sex drive, swelling and sores. Most infections with syphilis are spread through vaginal or anal sex, Lewis said.
Syphilis can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and is one of the most common causes of infertility, Lewis said.
The Associated Press reported:
This news came as health officials said they’re seeing an increased risk of HIV because of the sharing of sex toys and online pornography.
The National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention reported the increase in syphilis cases on the heels of other recent trends including an increase in sexual assaults, reports of unprotected sex and dating sites where people are posting dating profiles to meet other people who’ve had sex with people who have transmitted diseases. This is the first time syphilis cases have increased since 1996, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Shimon Sherman, the senior investigator at the CDC.
The total number of HIV cases decreased, primarily because of an increasing number of people living with HIV and because more people are being diagnosed with AIDS before they’ve had sex with another person, though the latter study has not yet been published.
This article first appeared on Washington Post and The New York Times.