It's an alarming trend, to say the least. The rate of syphilis in the United States is rising, and the sexually transmitted disease is affecting a disproportionate number of young minority gay and bisexual men, according to research by the Centers for Disease Control.

The study from the CDC was reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

CDC researchers used data from 27 states and determined that between 2005 and 2008, the rate of the STD among black gay and bisexual men rose eight times faster than it did among their white counterparts.  

The number of cases of syphilis has been increasing since 2000, when the syphilis rate was at a low of just 2.1 cases per 100,000 people. Not only is this higher rate of syphilis a concern because of the disease itself, but because syphilis increases an individual's chances of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Why More Cases of Syphilis?

"I think the public health messages about casual sex have been diluted a little," says Bruce Hirsch, MD, attending physician of Infectious Diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, NY. "I think we are not emphasizing the risks of casual sex as much as we did when AIDS first appeared."

Indeed, the CDC concluded that care providers should be offering safe-sex counseling as well as screening for syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections when caring for men who have sex with other men.

Syphilis, which is caused by a bacteria, is passed through direct contact with a syphilis sore, which occurs primarily on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or rectum. Sores also may appear in the mouth and on the lips. Syphilis is transmitted during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. While it cannot be spread through contact with swimming pools, toilet seats, doorknobs, hot tubs, shared clothing or eating utensils, it can be passed by a pregnant mother to her baby. In a pregnant woman, syphilis can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth and premature delivery.

Some 2 million pregnant women become infected annually with syphilis, and more than half of these women pass it on to their unborn children. In developing countries, between 3 and 15 percent of women of child-bearing age are thought to have syphilis, estimates the World Health Organization, according to Reuters. If simple, inexpensive tests were offered for syphilis in developing nations, a million newborn babies could be saved annually, according to some experts.


Su, John et al. "Primary and Secondary Syphilis Among Black and Hispanic Men Who Have Sex With Men: Case Report Data From 27 States." 2 August 2011. Annals of Internal Medicine.

 "Syphilis." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kelland, Kate. "Syphilis tests could save a million babies: experts." 1 March 2012. MedlinePlus. National Institutes of Health.

"Syphilis on the rise among minority gay men." 2 August 2011.

Norton, Amy. "Syphilis up among minority gay, bisexual men." 1 August 2011. Reuters.