The past year has also seen a 40 percent rise in congenital syphilis, the type passed from mothers to their babies. Congenital syphilis can cause neurological problems, deformity, and death, and in 2018, 94 babies died from the disease.
In recent years, more than half of local STD treatment and prevention programs have faced budget cuts. Together, all of these factors point to roughly the same sentiment: Americans have stopped taking STDs seriously.
Local health departments play a crucial role in preventing the spread of STDs. Preventing congenital syphilis requires testing pregnant women for syphilis the first time they see their doctor. But since the 2008 recession, the municipal-health-department workforce has shrunk by almost a quarter.
Certain STDs had been declining in the 1990s, and in 2000 syphilis was close to being eliminated. STDs simply weren’t seen as much of a threat. And to the extent that they were, it was easy to blame the victims.
Public-health advocates say policy makers are essentially asleep at the wheel as STDs creep up slowly and claim more lives. “There’s a lack of public, provider, and policy-maker knowledge about what’s happening in STDs, and many consider these to be infections of a bygone era.”
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