Syphilis cases rise as budget cuts threaten efforts to contain the outbreak

Syphilis cases rise as budget cuts threaten efforts to contain the outbreak

“It’s really concerning,” Laura Bachmann, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Sexually Transmitted Infections, told Politico. “We need to do things differently. We need more investment in infrastructure, innovation, treatment, diagnosis, prevention – there is a lot of work to do.

But public health experts worry there won’t be enough resources to do that work given the ongoing gridlock over this year’s budget on Capitol Hill and the potential for a $400 million cut to disease investigators if Congress sticks to the spending agreement it reached with President Joe Biden last year. When the 2024 appropriations legislation is passed.

That deal is still on hold after Congress extended the order until early March to allow more time for budget negotiations, but House Speaker Mike Johnson And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer They indicated that they largely plan to adhere to the previous agreement, and if anything happens, there will be additional cuts to government programs.

A December survey by the National Coalition of STD Directors found that these cuts — if they take effect — would force public health departments to lay off more than 800 disease tracers in 2024 and 190 more in 2025. The group says the job losses will cause It means fewer people helping patients use PrEP, testing for STIs and referring people for treatment, contact tracing, and working on outbreaks of other infections such as viral hepatitis and tuberculosis.

“We know that disease intervention specialists play an important role in syphilis control — not only in contact tracing and partner services, but they also really know the community,” Bachmann said. “They understand the culture. So it will be more difficult now.”

Some places with the worst rates of sexually transmitted infections will be hit hardest by the cuts.

Texas, the state with the highest number of congenital syphilis cases in 2022, is set to lose 83 tracers to the disease this year. Arizona, which has its highest rates of HIV infection since the late 1980s and the third-highest rate of congenital syphilis in the country, would lose 60.

Rebecca Scranton, deputy chief of the Office of Infectious Diseases and Services at the Arizona Department of Health Services, told Politico that if Congress goes ahead with the cuts, they would have to cut their STD testing work in half starting next year.

“No matter what happens, we will continue to support Arizonans however we can,” she said, adding that they have four open positions they cannot fill. “But it definitely makes it more difficult.”

The Biden administration launched the National Federal Syphilis and Congenital Syphilis Task Force last year to address the growing crisis.

Rachel Levine, chair of the task force, told Politico that since last year the group has focused on promoting timely testing, especially for pregnant women, improving access to medications people can take after potential exposure, and increasing attention to racial disparities. Due to poverty and difficulty obtaining health care.

“We are very concerned about the increases in the American Indian and Alaska Native community,” she said, but stressed that the problem includes all populations. The 14 priority states with the highest rates of congenital syphilis that the task force is focusing on include both blue states like California and New York and red states like Arkansas and Florida. Within those states, they hope to focus on the high rates of people struggling with addiction and people leaving prison — two populations at high risk of contracting syphilis.

The task force has set a goal of increasing the percentage of syphilis cases prevented through testing and treatment by 5 percent by September. But Levine, a pediatrician, stressed that the vast majority of cases of congenital syphilis are preventable if the infection is detected and treated in a timely manner, which can only happen if more doctors become comfortable asking patients about their sexual history and testing them for the infection.

“That is our goal: to reduce the incidence of syphilis, to reduce the number of children infected with syphilis,” she said.

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