Sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis and gonorrhea seem cutely archaic in the post AIDS world -the way images of people chain-smoking in offices look strange today.So it may come as a surprise to know that the US is looking at its highest rate of syphilis infection in recent memory. In fact, the number of syphilis cases has been mounting steadily for almost a decade. In November, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report that said syphilis rates rose for both genders in every region of the US in 2014. “Syphilis had become relatively rare in developed countries since the discovery of penicillin and… it looked as though the United States had all but eliminated the disease,“ writes Naomi Sharp in The Atlantic. But in 2002, the downward trend began to reverse. In fact, rates of the other two members of the archaic STD trio -chlamydia and gonorrhea -have also risen simultaneously for the first time. And it might be all related to dating apps and the casual hook-up culture they promote.
Some health officials point to apps like Tinder and Grindr that facilitate casual sex between partners who don’t know each other’s sexual histories.Epidemiologists believe dating apps can pose a diagnostic problem, since controlling the spread of syphilis -which is notoriously difficult to pin down as a cause of illness because it mimics the symptoms of many other diseases -relies on being able to notify an infected person’s sexual partners.
“It’s easier to meet partners [through dating apps] and not necessarily have identifying information and not be able to track them down later,“ says a CDC doctor. She also suggests that people might be less careful now that the threat of HIV AIDS is less immediate than it was in the 1990s, or that partners might use strategies to prevent HIV transmission that aren’t as effective for other STDs. Condoms, for instance, are a good precaution but not a reliable prevention method for syphilis.
Given the resurgence of measles and whooping cough thanks to American anti-vaxxers, it does seem to be the season for the return of scourges we thought had been more or less eliminated in the developed world.