Syphilis, a bacterial disease that shows up as genital sores and can lead to other diseases and even death, showed a huge increase last year. The rate of syphilis cases reached its highest level since 1991, while the total number of cases rose to its highest level since 1948, just three years after World War II. HIV cases also rose 16 percent from 2020 to 2021.
Syphilis bottomed out in the U.S. in the late 1990s, with the CDC hoping to fully eradicate the disease. Only years later, syphilis rates would start rising; by 2021, more than 52,000 cases were reported.
Many factors could be at play, but officials believe the COVID pandemic is mostly at fault. Testing and treatment took a backseat during the worst days of the crisis in 2020, while many people now feel sexually unshackled with COVID vaccines available, lockdowns over, and mask mandates lifted. Some health officials are calling for public messaging about condoms. Monkeypox, which exploded this year and last, is also complicating efforts and eating up health funding from the government.