syphilis diagnostic test

(Credit: Kitsawet Saethao/Shutterstock)

Syphilis cases in the United States have skyrocketed by 80% in just five years, reaching over 200,000 in 2022, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite this alarming increase, a new survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center reveals that many Americans are in the dark about the symptoms, treatment, and prevention of this sexually transmitted infection (STI).

The survey found that only 54% of U.S. adults know that syphilis can be permanently cured, while 16% mistakenly believe there is a vaccine to prevent it, and 45% are unsure. This lack of knowledge is particularly concerning given the rising number of cases.

When it comes to protecting oneself from contracting syphilis, most respondents correctly identified abstinence (78%) and using a condom (77%) as proper safety measures. Meanwhile, they also correctly said that using oral contraception (94%), wearing a diaphragm (89%), or getting a vaccine (78%) were ineffective methods of preventing syphilis. However, 71% failed to recognize that using clean needles is an essential precaution as well.

Perhaps most worrying is the public’s inability to recognize the signs and symptoms of syphilis. Less than a third of respondents identified firm, round, painless sores (30%), swollen lymph nodes (28%), fever (27%), weight loss (16%), dizziness or lightheadedness (13%), or blurry vision (12%) as indicators of the infection.

Secondary Stage Syphilis on patient's hand
Secondary stage syphilis sores (lesions) on the palms of the hand. (Credit: enuengneng/Shutterstock)

The survey also explored knowledge about other STIs, including HIV, HPV, and mpox (formerly known as monkeypox). While most respondents were aware of how HIV can be spread through unprotected sex (95%), sharing needles (90%), and from an infected person to their child during birth (67%), only one in three people knew that it could also be transmitted through breastfeeding.

Uncertainty surrounding the curability and availability of vaccines for various STIs was also prevalent. While most respondents knew that gonorrhea (65%), chlamydia (63%), and syphilis (54%) could be cured, only 29% were aware that mpox is curable. Furthermore, a significant portion of the public was unsure or incorrect about the existence of vaccines for Zika (80%), syphilis (61%), HIV (52%), gonorrhea (57%), genital herpes (55%), and chlamydia (59%).

On a more positive note, the survey revealed that many Americans have a reasonable level of background knowledge about STIs. Large majorities correctly identified that someone with an STI can spread it even without symptoms (91%), that medication can control HIV and prevent disease progression (87%), and that an STI can be passed from a pregnant person to their baby (78%).

As syphilis cases continue to rise, it is crucial that the public becomes more informed about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options available. With increased awareness and education, individuals can take the necessary steps to protect themselves and their partners from this potentially devastating infection.

Methodology

The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania (APPC) engaged SSRS, an independent market research company, to conduct the 19th wave of the Annenberg Survey of Attitudes on Public Health (ASAPH) National Survey. The survey focused on maternal health and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and was conducted via the SSRS Opinion Panel.

U.S. adults 18 and older who completed the ASAPH Wave 1 survey, or who were recruited in ASAPH Wave 9 or the ASAPH Engagement Survey, were invited to participate. Only panelists who previously reported not being a member of other U.S. opinion panels were included. The sample size was N = 1,962.

Data collection took place from April 18 to April 24, 2024, with 1,522 respondents participating in English (1,492) and Spanish (30). There were 1,485 web respondents and 37 telephone respondents. The data were weighted to represent the U.S. adult population, and the survey has a margin of sampling error of ± 3.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All figures are rounded to the nearest whole number and may not add to 100%. Combined subcategories may not add to totals in the topline and text due to rounding.

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1 Comment

  1. daniel j says:

    STDs can never infect a person who follows God’s law as stated in the Bible: no fornication and no adultery. Such a simple “cure” that comes from the Creator of the Universe (Christ)