ATLANTA (Reuters) - Syphilis is rapidly spreading among gay and bisexual men in the United States, leading to the highest new case numbers reported in two decades, while other common sexually transmitted diseases appear to be under control, a federal study found on Tuesday.
In 2013, the number of syphilis infections reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rose by more than 10 percent to 17,535 cases, according to the agency's annual report card on diseases commonly spread through sexual contact.
That is the most syphilis cases since 1995, the CDC said, with men having sex with men accounting for 75 percent of infections.
“We’re concerned about this increase,” said Gail Bolan, director of the CDC’s division of sexually transmitted disease prevention. ”The traditional tools we have been using do not seem to be as effective.”
The report also found that gonorrhea transmission was stabilizing, while new cases of Chlamydia declined from the levels seen in 2012.
Federal health officials called for better screening of syphilis, which can lead to blindness and stroke if untreated.
Half of the men with syphilis are also infected with HIV, according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends at least annual tests for men having sex with men.
Men having sex with anonymous partners may require more frequent screenings, such as every three to six months, Bolan said, calling for more awareness among medical professionals.
“We have a lot of providers that don’t realize that syphilis is back,” she said. “They think this is a disease of years past. It’s critical that they do a sexual history so that they can improve screening for these men.”
Editing by Letitia Stein and Christian Plumb