Rising Syphilis Cases Among Gay and Bisexual Men

Content From: Dr. Jonathan Mermin MD, MPH, (RADM, USPHS), Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and PreventionPublished: April 26, 20173 min read


Dr. Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, (RADM, USPHS), Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
During STD Awareness Month, one important focus is on syphilis’ return among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). Since 2001, syphilis infections have steadily risen among MSM in the United States and have reached a level of disease burden not seen since before the HIV epidemic. But gay, bisexual, and other MSM are not the only group that has experienced increases in syphilis. Rates are on the rise among men overall, women, newborns, a majority of age groups, all regions, and almost every race/ethnicity.MSM are hardest hit, however, and are also experiencing increases in other sexually transmitted diseases. In 2015, the majority of primary and secondary syphilis cases (the most infectious stages of the disease) were diagnosed in MSM. Further data analysis suggests that on average, half of those diagnosed with syphilis are also infected with HIV. We cannot let this become the new normal. There is much we can do.
Awareness and education made a difference in preventing HIV among MSM, and the same can be true for preventing syphilis. More recently, increased HIV testing has yielded favorable results and this strategy can also be applied to syphilis testing. If you are sexually active, here are some ways to lower your chances of getting syphilis:
  • Get tested! It is the only way to know if you have syphilis. CDC recommends all sexually active men who have sex with men be tested for specific STDs, including syphilis, at least once a year. If you have multiple sexual partners, you should be screened more frequently. CDC’s Get Tested Web site helps you find free, fast, and confidential testing near you.
  • Talk about it! Silence can enable the transmission of STDs like syphilis.
    • Talk with your partner(s) about condoms, other prevention methods, and behaviors that can put you at risk for syphilis, HIV, and other STDs. Learn more about how to reduce your risk for STDs.
    • Talk with your healthcare provider and ask if you should be tested. There are resources available to help you find an LBGT friendly healthcare provider. If you test positive for syphilis, you can get treated with the right medicine from your healthcare provider. Your sex partner should be treated too, not only for their health, but because you can get syphilis again even if you’ve been treated before.
This STD Awareness Month prompts us to take action to reduce syphilis and all STDs. But prevention and treatment are necessary not just one month out of the year, but all year, every year. Working together to educate, test, and treat, we can disrupt syphilis!