Syphilis in the United States: on the rise?

Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2015 Feb;13(2):161-8. doi: 10.1586/14787210.2015.990384. Epub 2014 Dec 9.


Syphilis rates and trends vary by population subgroup. Among men who have sex with men (MSM), rates of primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis are high throughout the USA (228.8 per 100,000 in 2013). P&S syphilis among women is much less common (0.9 per 100,000 in 2013) and occurs in isolated outbreaks plus in a few counties with persistent low levels of infection. Congenital syphilis trends closely follow P&S trends among women. These trends have implications for prevention. Routine screening among MSM can prevent tertiary syphilis, but despite interventions, rates of infection continue to rise among MSM and will soon approach those last seen in 1982 (estimate: 340.7 per 100,000). Control of syphilis among women is possible and important because it often leads to congenital syphilis. Outbreaks among heterosexuals can be halted by intensive screening, treatment and partner notification.

Keywords: congenital syphilis; epidemiology; men who have sex with men; prevention; surveillance; syphilis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Contact Tracing*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Female
  • Heterosexuality
  • Homosexuality, Male
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Population Surveillance
  • Risk Factors
  • Syphilis / epidemiology*
  • Syphilis / prevention & control
  • Syphilis, Congenital / epidemiology
  • Syphilis, Congenital / prevention & control
  • United States / epidemiology

Supplementary concepts

  • Syphilis, primary
  • Syphilis, secondary
  • Syphilis, tertiary