June 13, 2024

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STD crisis: Debt ceiling slashes funding and syphilis rates skyrocket

2 min read

State and local health departments across the U.S found out in June they’d be losing the final two years of a $1 billion investment to strengthen the ranks of people who track and try to prevent sexually transmitted diseases — especially the rapid increase of syphilis cases.

The fallout was quick: Nevada, which saw a 44 percentage-point jump in congenital syphilis from 2021 to 2022, was supposed to get more than $10 million to bolster its STD program budget. Instead, the state’s STD prevention budget went down by more than 75%, reducing its capacity to respond to syphilis, according to Dawn Cribb at the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

Several states told The Associated Press that the biggest impact from having the program canceled in the national debt ceiling deal is that they’re struggling to expand their disease intervention specialist workforce. These people do contact tracing and outreach, and are a key piece of trying to stop the spread of syphilis, which reached a low point in the U.S. in 2000 but has increased almost every year since. In 2021, there were 176,713 cases — up 31% from the prior year.

“It was devastating, really, because we had worked so hard to shore up our workforce and also implement new activities,” said Sam Burgess, the STD/HIV program director for the Louisiana Department of Health. His state was slated to receive more than $14 million overall, but instead got $8.6 million that must be spent by January 2026. “And we’re still scrambling to try to figure out how we can plug some of those funding gaps.”

While men who have sex with men are disproportionately impacted by syphilis, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health officials across the country also point to the increase in pregnant women who are passing syphilis to their babies. It can cause serious health issues for infants, including blindness and bone damage, or lead to stillbirths. In 2021, there were 77.9…

Kenya Hunter, The Associated Press

2023-10-28 10:21:27

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