National Women’s Health Week: Safe Sexual Health Day

Posted on May 10, 2024 by Norris Agnew, Division of Information and Education, HHS Office of Minority Health
A pregnant woman is holding her stomach with both hands.

May 12–18, 2024 is National Women’s Health Week, a time to focus our collective attention on improving the health and well-being of women across the United States. This year’s theme is “Empowering Women, Cultivating Health: Celebrating Voices, Wellness and Resilience.” The theme aims to empower women across the lifespan of their health journey while highlighting the unique health issues women face. The second day of this observance week is designated as Safe Sexual Health Day and is intended to further highlight the role of physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being on women’s health and sexuality. This includes focusing on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

Resurgence of Syphilis 

The rising rates of syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), now pose a nationwide public health threat not seen since the 1950s.1 From 2021 to 2022, the rate of reported primary and secondary syphilis among women increased 19.2% (from 7.3 to 8.7 per 100,000) and the rate among men increased 6.3% (from 25.2 to 26.8 per 100,000).2 Over the last five years, the rate of reported primary and secondary syphilis among women increased 190.0%, nearly 150% more than the rate increase for men.2 Once close to elimination as a major health concern, syphilis cases are now surging across the United States.3 Left untreated, syphilis can lead to serious health issues in adults as well as abnormalities and even death for babies.4 

Congenital syphilis, which occurs when syphilis is transmitted during pregnancy, is also rising dramatically. In 2022, more than 3,700 babies were born with syphilis, which was more than 10 times the number reported in 2012.5 When transmitted during pregnancy, syphilis can cause stillbirth or other health complications, including lifelong medical issues for the infant if left untreated.  

Responding to the Surge 

Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine stands next to Stephen Lowe, the president of Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council in a building hallway next to a window overlooking a cityscape.
Assistant Secretary for Health ADM Rachel Levine visited Parkland Health in February to discuss rates of congenital syphilis in Texas, alongside Stephen Love, the president of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Hospital Council (Elena Rivera, KERA). 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is taking action to slow the rising syphilis rates. Through the establishment of the National Syphilis and Congenital Syphilis Syndemic (NSCSS) Federal Task Force, the Department is using its agencies, its expertise, and its stakeholder network to respond to the U.S. syphilis and congenital syphilis epidemic. Calling the epidemic “unacceptable” and syphilis “an entirely preventable disease,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the Task Force is working to reduce the incidence of syphilis and its devastating consequences.3 

To further address the impact of the syphilis epidemic on women, HHS Assistant Secretary for Health ADM Rachel L. Levine hosted a syphilis and congenital syphilis roundtable in late February with leaders from national provider organizations to discuss rising rates of congenital syphilis. The event focused on HHS resources that providers can use to reduce congenital syphilis rates and solicited feedback from participants on additional resources required to promote early screening and treatment options.6 In addition, ADM Levine is also working with health officials in some of the areas most impacted by the pandemic, such as North Texas, where she met with local health providers to discuss community outreach and treatment options.

Specific Steps to Prevent Syphilis and Congenital Syphilis 

A fair-complexioned woman is depicted looking right to left with her hair slightly blowing in the wind.

Despite these efforts, more work is needed. While this growing health concern continues to be addressed at federal, state, and local levels, women are also encouraged to take the following steps to reduce the incidence of syphilis for themselves and those closest to them:  

Protect your body – Women who are not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and does not have syphilis should use condoms the right way every time they engage in intimate sexual activities. If condoms are not used correctly during every sexual encounter, women should make sure to get tested for syphilis and other STIs on a regular basis

Protect your baby - Screening for syphilis early and often is a critical component of prenatal care. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends syphilis screenings three times during pregnancy; at the first prenatal visit, the third trimester, and at birth. If you are diagnosed with syphilis, make sure you and your sexual partner(s) receive treatment as quickly as possible. People who take these steps during prenatal care can prevent congenital syphilis.8     

Protect others - Anyone who tests positive for syphilis should: 

  1. Refrain from sexual activity until their infection is fully treated, and 
  1. Encourage sexual partners to get tested based on CDC guidelines

Continuing our efforts to improve women’s health requires a renewed focus on the unique health issues and the most urgent health concerns impacting women. That includes mitigating the resurgence of syphilis and congenital syphilis rates, which threaten to undo our efforts to advance the health, wellness, and resilience of women. During this Safe Sexual Health Day, let us recommit to improving the health outcomes of women today and for years to come by working to make syphilis and congenital syphilis health issues of the past. 

Learn more about sexual health and other priority women’s health issues through resources provided by the HHS Office on Women’s Health

End Notes 


2Table 35. Trends in Reported Cases and Rates of Reported Cases for Nationally Notifiable STIs, United States, 2018–2022 ( 



5U.S. Syphilis Cases in Newborns Continue to Increase: A 10-Times Increase Over a Decade | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC 



8Reduce congenital syphilis — STI04 - Healthy People 2030 |