Back in 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came up with a plan to eradicate syphilis. But 20 years later, it's making a fierce comeback — and can, in certain cases, be described as an epidemic.
Research points to several causes that, when combined, have created a veritable breeding ground for syphilis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease which, while it can initially fly under the radar, can lead to permanent brain damage, birth defects, and even death. It's "both treatable and curable," but our decaying public health system means that efforts at eliminating the disease are failing.
Federal funding for STD prevention has stagnated over the past 15 years, but accounting for deflation, that money is worth almost 40 percent less than in 2003. And in Midwestern states, where rural communities are bearing the brunt of the increase in syphilis cases, CDC funding has been cut, sometimes by tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, says the Post-Dispatch.
This problem is being exacerbated by people's misunderstanding of syphilis: The disease is sometimes called the "great imitator," because its symptoms are often diagnosed as something else.
With the advent of dating apps that can make sex anonymous, tracking where syphilis is coming from and how people are contracting it is becoming a fraught affair. And with the public health system "not even treading water" in some states, per syphilis transmission researcher Hilary Reno, there is little recourse for those trying to combat the disease.
Given all these influences, syphilis is having a field day. Missouri's cases have quadrupled from 2012 to 2018, and many Midwestern and Western states are seeing similar rises. Unfortunately, we're a far cry from the CDC's plan from back in 1999. Read more at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.