Syphilis rates are on the rise, and dating apps may be playing a role, experts say

Syphilis, a disease most people associate with the past, has returned with a roar, and public health experts think the rise in rates can be attributed at least partly to social media.

Infection rates are the highest they have been in 20 years, said David Harvey, the executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors. From 2014 to 2015 alone, the number of syphilis cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rose by 17.7%, from 63,453 to 74,702.

Along with cuts in STD prevention and treatment resources and possibly more relaxed attitudes toward protection since the advent of life-saving HIV treatments, health experts think the influence of social media on how people meet sex partners may play a role in the upswing.

“The way our society is forming partners is now through using a lot of social media, and that is affecting the sexual transmission dynamics we are seeing,” said Gail Bolan, the director of the Division of STD Prevention at the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.

Tracking and controlling transmission are already tricky since the disease manifests as a small painless lesion about a month after exposure. Nicknamed the “The Great Pretender,” it can cause a head-scratching constellation of symptoms or none at all, depending on the stage.