Doctors and health experts across the country are reporting a spike in numbers for a certain sexually transmitted disease, one that could be deadly.
The City of Lubbock Health Department reported a 500% increase in cases of syphilis from 2019 to this year and the front-line medication to treat the sexually transmitted infection cannot keep up with demand.
Director of Public Health Katherine Wells said the city is seeing increasing cases of syphilis in all populations, but a 40% increase among women. She said most STD and STI cases affect young adults, but they are diagnosing people up to 60 years old.
“We would see 50, 60, 70, cases a year of syphilis; for last year we saw 600 cases,” Wells said.
There is no definitive answer for why cases have spiked so high, but this increase has created an even bigger problem.
“Increases in the number of syphilis cases and the number of people being treated, we’re also seeing a shortage in our frontline medication,” Katherine Wells said.
Pfizer is the sole supplier of penicillin G benzathine, the injection, most efficient to treat syphilis and it reported shortages in both adult and pediatric benzathine.
“What we’re having to do now…we’re treating with the alternate medication recommended by the CDC which is Doxycycline,” Belle Maldonado, Licensed Vocational Nurse at the Health Department Clinic, said.
Maldonado says receiving treatment as soon as possible is imperative and doxycycline has proven to be a challenge.
“The alternative medication for so long, so many days, and it’s really easy once you start to feel better, you don’t think you need those antibiotics anymore.”
And the penicillin injection is the only syphilis treatment safe to administer to pregnant women.
“We are continuing to treat pregnant women and their partners so we know they are being treated adequately,” Maldonado said.
Syphilis left untreated can damage your internal organs and can even lead to death. It can also create complications for women wanting to become pregnant.
“These things continue to wreak havoc in your body until you are treated sufficiently for syphilis,” Maldonado said.
Pfizer estimates benzathine will not be easily accessible until April of 2024, so Maldonado says the best prevention of sexually transmitted infections and diseases is to use a condom.