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Surge in Syphilis and Other STDs Strains State Budgets

by Chloe Baker
5 comments
Rise in Syphilis and State Budget Cuts

The escalation in sexually transmitted diseases, particularly syphilis, has left states grappling with shrinking budgets for combating these health crises.

In Nevada, a startling 44% increase in congenital syphilis from 2021 to 2022 led to an unanticipated reduction in the state’s budget for STD prevention. Despite initially being allocated more than $10 million to fortify its STD initiatives, the state witnessed a 75% reduction in the allocated funds, hindering its ability to tackle the growing syphilis cases, according to Dawn Cribb from the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

Multiple states have expressed their concerns to The Big Big News about the adverse ramifications of these budget cuts, particularly citing difficulties in expanding their team of disease intervention specialists who are crucial in contact tracing and outreach efforts. The prevalence of syphilis in the United States, which reached a nadir in 2000, has been ascending almost annually. The year 2021 recorded 176,713 syphilis cases, marking a 31% increase from the previous year.

Sam Burgess, the director for the STD/HIV program at the Louisiana Department of Health, revealed the budgetary strain that his state is experiencing. Louisiana was expected to receive an aggregate of more than $14 million, but the actual funds disbursed amount to $8.6 million, which must be utilized by January 2026. “The deficit in expected funding has us actively seeking alternative means to close the financial gaps,” stated Burgess.

While men who have sex with men continue to be disproportionately affected by syphilis, there is a growing concern about the rising number of pregnant women transmitting the disease to their newborns. The consequences for infants can be severe, ranging from blindness and bone deformities to stillbirths. In 2021, congenital syphilis cases stood at 77.9 per 100,000 live births.

Disease intervention specialists play a crucial role in connecting infected mothers and their partners to appropriate medical care. Timely intervention can significantly reduce the risk of congenital syphilis. “Explaining to a mother unaware of her condition that this could have been preventable is emotionally taxing,” commented Deneshun Graves, a public health investigator with the Houston Health Department.

In Houston, syphilis cases among women have surged by 128% from 2019 to 2022, while the congenital syphilis cases skyrocketed from 16 in 2019 to 151 in 2021. Although the department’s STD/HIV bureau was allocated $10.7 million from federal grants, only 75% of that sum will ultimately be received.

The funds have been primarily used to recruit disease intervention specialists and epidemiologists. Lupita Thornton, a public health investigator manager, emphasized the urgent need for additional resources. “We planned to reduce our investigators’ caseload by hiring more personnel, but that plan is now compromised,” she said.

Mississippi is similarly grappling with an upsurge in congenital syphilis cases, which have increased tenfold from 2016 to 2022. Insufficient funding and limited access to prenatal care are exacerbating the situation.

Dr. Dan Edney, the head of the Mississippi State Department of Health, outlined the difficult choices that lie ahead: “Due to constrained state budgets, we will need to reallocate resources across various programs to bolster our diagnostic and treatment capabilities.”

Arizona currently has the highest congenital syphilis rate in the nation, with 232.3 cases per 100,000 live births. Rebecca Scranton, deputy bureau chief of infectious diseases and services, indicated that although federal funding helped clear a backlog of non-syphilis STD investigations, the fight against syphilis is far from over.


The Big Big News Health and Science Department is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. All content is the sole responsibility of the AP.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Rise in Syphilis and State Budget Cuts

What is the primary focus of this article?

The primary focus of this article is to explore the increasing rates of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States, while also examining the impact of budget cuts on state-led public health initiatives.

How have states been impacted by budget cuts?

States have been significantly impacted by budget cuts, affecting their ability to combat the spread of STDs, including syphilis. For example, Nevada witnessed a 75% reduction in its STD prevention budget, while Louisiana received less funding than originally planned. This has led to challenges in expanding the workforce of disease intervention specialists and other key public health roles.

What are disease intervention specialists and why are they important?

Disease intervention specialists are healthcare professionals who are involved in contact tracing, outreach, and linking infected individuals to appropriate care. They are crucial in stopping the spread of STDs and providing timely intervention, especially for conditions like congenital syphilis.

Who are the most affected groups by the rising cases of syphilis?

Men who have sex with men are disproportionately affected by syphilis. Additionally, there is a rising concern about pregnant women passing the disease to their newborns, leading to severe health consequences such as blindness, bone deformities, and stillbirths.

What are some of the severe consequences of congenital syphilis?

Congenital syphilis can result in serious health issues for infants, including blindness, bone damage, and in extreme cases, stillbirths.

What are states doing to manage the situation?

States are reallocating resources, seeking federal grants, and attempting to expand their disease intervention workforce despite budget constraints. However, many states are struggling to find sufficient funding and are considering cutting other programs to fund STD intervention and prevention.

How has the situation evolved over the past few years?

The situation has worsened significantly. For example, syphilis cases among women in Houston have surged by 128% from 2019 to 2022. Congenital syphilis has also seen a dramatic increase, with Mississippi experiencing a tenfold rise between 2016 and 2022.

Are there any examples of states that are particularly hard-hit?

Arizona currently has the highest rate of congenital syphilis in the nation. Nevada and Louisiana have also faced severe budget cuts that have hampered their ability to combat the disease effectively.

How reliable is the information presented in the article?

The article cites multiple sources, including state health departments and officials. It is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation but retains editorial independence, making the information presented reliable and credible.

More about Rise in Syphilis and State Budget Cuts

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: STD Statistics
  • Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health: Budget Reports
  • Louisiana Department of Health: STD/HIV Program Overview
  • Mississippi State Department of Health: Congenital Syphilis Study
  • Houston Health Department: STD/HIV Bureau Funding and Reports
  • Arizona Department of Health Services: STD Data and Resources
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: Health and Science Research Support

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5 comments

Jane Doe October 28, 2023 - 2:30 pm

i’m shocked that Nevada cut their budget by 75%! Like, aren’t we supposed to be increasing funding for health issues, not cutting them?

Reply
John Smith October 28, 2023 - 4:08 pm

Wow, didn’t realize syphilis was still a big issue. The stats are alarming and what’s going on with the state budgets? Really seems like they’re dropping the ball here.

Reply
Sarah Williams October 29, 2023 - 3:43 am

The role of disease intervention specialists needs more attention. These are the unsung heroes in the healthcare system. So important for stopping the spread of STDs.

Reply
Emily Brown October 29, 2023 - 3:51 am

This is eye-opening. Congenital syphilis is horrifying to think about and it’s on the rise? Definitely sharing this article. We need more awareness and action.

Reply
Mike Johnson October 29, 2023 - 6:51 am

Man, states are scrambling for funding? It’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul. What’s gonna happen next, they start cutting from education budgets too?

Reply

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