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STD expert warns of an ‘out of control’ situation as gonorrhea and syphilis cases rise in the US


  • STD experts are warning of all-time-high cases of syphilis and gonorrhea.
  • At a Monday conference, one expert called the situation “out of control.”
  • They say at-home tests, more condom use, and better STD clinics could help.

This week, health experts at the CDC and the National Coalition of STD Directors warned of a sexually transmitted disease crisis as cases of syphilis and gonorrhea continue to rise year after year.

During a bi-annual STD Prevention Conference, David Harvey, the executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, called the situation “out of control.”

According to preliminary CDC data, cases of gonorrhea and syphilis increased in 2021. There were a total of 2.5 million new cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, the three STDs local health departments must track.

Syphilis cases are the highest they’ve been since 1991, with a total of 171,074 new cases in 2021. There’s also been an uptick in congenital syphilis, which is passed from mother to baby in the womb. There were 2,677 new cases in 2021, and at least 139 newborns died of it in 2020.

During the Monday virtual conference, Dr. Leandro Mena, the director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said rebuilding and creating new STD prevention strategies is “imperative.”

Syphilis is a curable STD treated with the antibiotic penicillin. If left untreated, it can result in serious infection and death. Gonorrhea is also treated with antibiotics, though experts have warned of the infection’s ability to resist certain antibiotics that have been commonly used to treat it.

Mena said reducing STD stigma, getting more people to use condoms, and creating access to more testing methods could help lower STD infection rates. According to Mena, at-home STD tests could become a new innovation in STD prevention.

“I envision one day where getting tested can be as simple and as affordable as doing a home pregnancy test,” Mena said.

Harvey said his organization, the National Coalition of STD Directors, and other public-health groups are seeking $500 million in government funding for STD clinics.

An increase in unprotected sex, decreased STD testing throughout the pandemic, and the spread of monkeypox have likely contributed to the uptick in these cases, Dr. Mike Saag, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said during the conference.

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