The number of gay and bisexual men diagnosed with syphilis in the US has soared, according to new federal data.

The increase represents a major public health concern, researchers at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Thursday, indicating that it also heralded a rise in HIV transmission.

Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection, is rarely fatal but can lead to health problems such as blindness and stroke.

“We’ve got to re-evaluate and look at new approaches that we can use to drive these rates down,” said Gail Bolan, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention.

From 2005 to 2013, the number of US syphilis cases reported nearly doubled, from 8,724 to 16,663, the CDC said.

The majority of cases were among men who have sex with men (MSM).

The New York Post reports in 2013, men accounted for about 91% of all reported cases. The highest rates of syphilis were among black men, although the largest increases were reported among Hispanic and white men, the CDC said.

Among women, the syphilis rate decreased from 1.5 cases per 100,000 people in 2008 to 0.9 cases per 100,000 people in 2013, largely because of a decline in the number of black women with the disease, the study said.

The CDC recommended a prevention effort that includes increased screening for the infection and stresses the importance of using condoms, limiting sexual partners and encouraging monogamous relationships.