Background: After a massive syphilis epidemic in the first half of the 20th century, China was able to eliminate this infection for 20 years (1960-80). However, substantial changes in Chinese society have been followed by a resurgent epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. Sporadic reports have provided clues to the magnitude of the spread of syphilis, but a national surveillance effort is needed to provide data for planning and intervention.
Methods: We collected and assessed case report data from China's national sexually transmitted disease surveillance system and sentinel site network.
Findings: In 1993, the reported total rate of cases of syphilis in China was 0.2 cases per 100,000, whereas primary and secondary syphilis alone represented 5.7 cases per 100,000 persons in 2005. The rate of congenital syphilis increased greatly with an average yearly rise of 71.9%, from 0.01 cases per 100,000 livebirths in 1991 to 19.68 cases per 100 000 livebirths in 2005.
Interpretation: The results suggest that a range of unique biological and social forces are driving the spread of syphilis in China. A national campaign for detection and treatment of syphilis, and a credible prevention strategy, are urgently needed.