Health Advice



Syphilis cases spike in Florida, especially in Orange County

Caroline Catherman, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Health & Fitness

ORLANDO, Fla. — Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease nearly eradicated 20 years ago, is back on the rise in Florida, particularly in Orange County.

The infection increased by nearly 80% in the five years before 2022, the latest year of data available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Florida data shows the number of cases nearly doubled during that time, with 18,838 Florida residents living with syphilis in 2022.

Orange County saw 1,830 cases in 2022. It had the sixth-highest syphilis rate of any Florida county that year, according to state health department data.

Experts aren’t positive why this increase has occurred — theories include reduced government investment in sexual health programs, decreased condom use, increased drug use and the rise of dating apps — but they’re concerned. Serious health effects can occur if the infection is left untreated. To tackle this crisis, efforts must be made to reduce stigma and improve access to testing and treatment, experts say.

“In the early 2000s, we were talking about even, possibly, eradicating [syphilis]. And then it came roaring back,” said Jill Roberts, associate professor for the USF College of Public Health. “We have similar data for chlamydia and gonorrhea, but syphilis is the one that really scares me.”

During the pandemic, even more resources were diverted away from sexual health clinics to support the U.S. COVID-19 response, corresponding with a sharp uptick in diagnoses, Roberts said.


“What really happened around COVID is we had this large collapse of the health care system and public health,” she said. “And so what we’re seeing now is … we’re lacking testing and treatment and education.”

What is syphilis?

Syphilis is a curable disease caused by bacteria. It is spread through direct contact with sores and rashes through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, making condoms crucial to its prevention, though they are not 100% effective. It can also spread from moms to their unborn babies. It’s thought to be transmissible only in the first two years of infection, according to the World Health Organization.

While it’s historically impacted men who have sex with men, heterosexual people are increasingly contracting it, and many don’t realize they have it.


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