Doctors are being forced to ration penicillin as syphilis cases soar amid the “out of control” rise of sexually transmitted infections.
According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, STIs are on a worrying rise, putting millions of people’s lives at risk from preventable infections.
Specifically, syphilis cases have soared to their highest level in more than seven decades.
The spike in cases has created an unexpected rise in demand for the injection that manufacturers like Pfizer are warning they can’t meet, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists claimed, according to KFF Health News.
“There is insufficient supply for usual ordering,” the ASHP said in a memo.
Two antibiotics are used to treat syphilis, the injectable penicillin and an oral drug called doxycycline.
Penicillin is also used to treat infections caused by bacteria, such as meningitis, pneumonia, gonorrhea and syphilis.
Unlike an antibiotic, which requires sticking to a two-week regimen, the penicillin shot is a one-time method. But now doctors are being forced to ration penicillin as syphilis cases rise.
According to the CDC data, more than 170,000 syphilis cases were reported back in 1951. The number dropped dramatically after the widespread availability of antibiotics.
By 1998, annual case numbers had dropped below 40,000, before creeping up again over the past two decades.
Pfizer confirmed the ongoing amoxicillin shortage and the increase in syphilis cases increased demand for injectable penicillin by about 70%.
The shortage is so severe that public health agencies have recommended that providers ration the drug.
Medical providers have been advised to prioritize pregnant people who they believe have been exposed because penicillin is the only syphilis treatment considered safe for them.
The disease can be deadly or lead to deformities in babies born to infected mothers.
Dr. Nima Majlesi, director of medical toxicology at Staten Island University Hospital, told The Post there are two major reasons for the rise in cases.
“People are using condoms less and less frequently,” he declared, saying that public health messages have “de-emphasized” the importance of safe sex in recent years.
Secondly, Majlesi says syphilis has become so uncommon in recent decades that it now often goes unrecognized, even by doctors, in its early stages.
The disease — also called “The Great Pretender,” as its symptoms can look like many other diseases — is spread by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal or oral sex. The sores are painless, meaning they often go untreated. Four to 10 weeks after infection, a rash often develops across a sufferer’s body.
Without medical treatment, syphilis can spread to the brain, nervous system or eyes, potentially causing blindness, deafness and paralysis.
Rationing penicillin could leave thousands of Americans without treatment for syphilis and other infections.