Syphilis cases increase in the Americas – PAHO/WHO

Syphilis cases increase in the Americas – PAHO/WHO
Syphilis cases increase in the Americas – PAHO/WHO

Washington, DC, May 22, 2024 (PAHO) – New cases of syphilis among adults aged 15 to 49 increased 30% between 2020 and 2022 in the Americas, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO). entitled Implementation of global health sector strategies on HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, 2022-2030.

Syphilis, a sexually transmitted bacterial infection, is preventable and curable, but cases have increased worldwide by more than 1 million in 2022, reaching a total of 8 million. The Americas currently face the highest global incidence, with 3.37 million cases (or 6.5 cases per 1,000 people), representing 42% of all new cases.

The increase in syphilis infections can be attributed to several factors, including insufficient awareness of the disease, disparities in access to health services and in diagnosis and treatment, and persistent stigma around sexually transmitted diseases. , which can discourage people from seeking medical care.

“Eliminating syphilis and congenital syphilis is possible, but requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the high prevalence of syphilis in the general population, protecting everyone,” said PAHO Director Dr. Jarbas Barbosa. “Countries must reaffirm their political commitment and accelerate the pace to end this preventable and curable disease,” he added.

If left untreated, syphilis can cause serious health problems, including brain and cardiovascular diseases. Many people with syphilis have no symptoms or do not notice them. Rapid detection tests allow timely initiation of treatment. Correct and consistent condom use during sexual relations can prevent syphilis.

Syphilis can also be transmitted during pregnancy, causing serious complications such as miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, congenital anomalies, damage to organs such as the liver, spleen and bones, as well as neurological damage.

The report published this week by the WHO also highlights an increase in cases among pregnant women. In the region, the percentage of pregnant women with syphilis increased by 28% in the last two years.

This trend has resulted in an increase in congenital syphilis, which reached an estimated 4.98 cases per 1,000 live births in 2022, significantly exceeding the WHO goal of 0.5 cases per 1,000 live births. That year it was estimated that 68,000 babies were born with syphilis in the region.

“We must strengthen prenatal care services to guarantee universal syphilis testing for all pregnant women and rapid and adequate treatment of those who test positive and their sexual partners if we want to achieve the elimination of congenital syphilis by 2030,” said the Dr. Sylvain Aldighieri, Director of the Department of Prevention, Control and Elimination of Communicable Diseases of PAHO.

PAHO recommends that countries increase public awareness about syphilis, including its transmission routes and preventive measures. Also, offer rapid tests for early diagnosis and ensure timely and adequate treatment with penicillin to effectively cure the infection, thus avoiding the transmission of the disease and possible complications.

The Organization works with countries in the Americas to improve syphilis surveillance and strengthen the capacities of staff in prenatal care services for syphilis and congenital syphilis. PAHO also collaborates with communities and civil society to advocate and promote the elimination of these diseases. Both syphilis and congenital syphilis are included in the PAHO Elimination Initiative, which aims to end more than 30 diseases and related conditions by 2030.

At the regional level, WHO has certified 11 countries and territories in the Americas for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and/or syphilis since 2015.

Note to the editor

This report, which outlines progress made in the implementation of global health sector strategies on HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) for 2022-2030, will be discussed at the 77th World Assembly of the Health, which will be held from May 27 to June 1, 2024 in Geneva, Switzerland.

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