CLEVELAND, Ohio –The highest number ever of some sexually transmitted diseases were reported in the United States in 2016, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That included more than 2 million new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, according to a recent CDC report. STDs are rapidly growing among women, infants and gay and bisexual men.
The increase is a serious threat because sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth and increased risk for HIV transmission if left untreated, the agency warned.
“STDs are a persistent enemy, growing in number and outpacing our ability to respond,” Dr. Jonathan Mermin of the CDC said in an emailed statement. Mermin is director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.
The majority of new STD cases last year were chlamydia, with 1.6 million diagnoses. The CDC also reported nearly 500,000 cases of gonorrhea and almost 28,000 cases of syphilis. All three of these diseases respond to antibiotics, but there is a growing threat of drug-resistance gonorrhea.
The focus on HIV education in recent years may have allowed people to forget about other STDs, said Dr. Amy Edwards, an infectious disease physician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital.
“People are so focused on HIV, they are not thinking about old-fashioned STDs,” Edwards said.
She also thinks that the trend of young women using long-term birth control might also be a contributing factor. Young women and teens using an IUD or other form of long-term birth control might think it protects them from disease. Since these women don’t need a prescription for birth control refilled, there might be years between their ob/gyn visits.
The CDC also reported a 28 percent increase in syphilis among newborns – also called congenital syphilis. The 600 cases of congenital syphilis resulted in 40 deaths and health complications that could have been prevented through screenings and treatment for pregnant women.
“It’s really unfortunate that (congenital syphilis) is on the rise,” Edwards said. “It is devastating to newborn babies.”
While a pregnant woman’s first doctor visit usually includes STD testing, many poor and young women don’t get prenatal care. Women who refuse the standard STD screening during delivery miss another chance for the disease to be found.
A lack of health insurance and the decreasing number of clinics also contributes to the problem of women who lack prenatal care. “It’s a mess and the rise in congenital syphilis is the consequence,” she said.
Here are some other numbers from the CDC report:
- Syphilis increased by nearly 18 percent from 2015 to 2016, with most cases affecting gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men. There was also a 36 person increase in women contracting syphilis.
- While gonorrhea increased among men and women, men had the greatest increase at 22 percent.
- Men who have sex with men (MSM) make up most of the syphilis cases, and half of the MSM diagnosed with syphilis also had HIV. This shows the need to combine STD and HIV health services, the CDC said.
According to the LGBT Wiki webpage, MSM refers to men who engage in sex with other men, regardless of whether they identify themselves as gay, bisexual or heterosexual.
State and local health departments are on the front lines of the fight to reverse the rise in STDs, the CDC said. Efforts to decrease the spread of STDS includes the need for rapid diagnosis and treatment, standard screenings for pregnant women, and services for MSM and those living with HIV services.
“It’s about education and making condoms available,” Edwards said, adding that abstinence is the only way to avoid getting an STD.
The highest number ever of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis cases were reported in the United States in 2016, according to the CDC.
Chlamydia accounted for the majority of the new STD cases.
Faster diagnosis and treatment, along with making STD screening a part of standard health care, are important steps for reversing the increase in STDs.