Syphilis cases are increasing, and the penicillin used to treat it is in short supply. The FDA has added a common type of the drug — penicillin G benzathine, an antibiotic sold by Pfizer — to its shortage list. The FDA says Pfizer has limited supply because of the increased demand.
Bloomberg reports this penicillin also treats strep throat, which is spreading more than usual in the U.S., according to the CDC.
Other drugs are used against strep. But this medication is the standard for treating syphilis, Bloomberg says.
In an emailed statement, the FDA said that the increased demand for the drug is due to rises in strep throat and syphilis.
The CDC says the rate of syphilis is as high as it’s been in the country since 1990 – up 32% in 2021 from the year before. Other sexually transmitted diseases are also on the rise.
The World Health Organizations says penicillin shortages are common around the world. The shortage is particularly dangerous for babies since they can contract syphilis before they are born. Penicillin can be used to treat them, but other antibiotics cannot.
The disease caused at least 220 stillbirths and infant deaths in 2021 in the U.S., according to the CDC. That’s a 45% increase from 2020.
“If you’re pregnant and you have syphilis, this is the treatment of choice,” said Erin Fox of the University of Utah. “There’s nothing else you can use.”
The FDA says Pfizer is the only company that sells the drug in the United States.
A congressional committee had a hearing last month about drug shortages, which also include other antibiotics and medicines to treat patients with cancer and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
FDA: “FDA Drug Shortages.”
CDC: “Increase in Invasive Group A Strep Infections, 2022–2023.”
Bloomberg: “Penicillin in Shortage as Syphilis, Strep Cases Rise in US.”
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