Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, rose 8 percent in the U.S. in 2004, the CDC reports.

Syphilis has been rising in the U.S. since 2000. The CDC’s latest numbers show that 2.7 per 100,000 people in the U.S. had syphilis in 2004.

Men accounted for the vast majority of new cases. The CDC reports that the increased rate has been from the numbers of diagnoses in men who have sex with men.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection mainly spread through sexual contact. It progresses in stages, with many people unaware that they have the infection. Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics. But untreated syphilis can seriously damage the brain and cardiovascular system.

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Syphilis in Women

Syphilis had been declining among women since 1991. But in 2004, that slowdown stopped. Women’s syphilis rates held steady in 2004, and the CDC calls for efforts to make sure those rates don’t start rising.

The CDC also expresses concern that the black-white gap in syphilis rates -- with higher rates among blacks -- widened in 2004, mainly among black men. It’s the first time in 13 years that that gap grew, says the CDC, adding that syphilis also increased in the South for the first time in 13 years.

The CDC recommends that public health providers consider developing Internet-based ways to teach people about syphilis and to notify patients’ partners about possible syphilis exposure.

The report appears in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 17, 2006; vol 55: pp 269-273. WebMD Medical Reference: “Understanding Syphilis -- the Basics.” News release, CDC.