After winning the battle for years, the United States is starting to lose the war against sexually transmitted diseases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.6 million cases of chlamydia, 470,000 cases of gonorrhea, and 28,000 cases of syphilis were reported last year.
Individuals aged 15 to 24 are the most affected age group.
All three of these sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have been increasing in frequency since 2014.
That was after a downward trend between 2006 and 2013.
“Increases in STDs are a clear warning of a growing threat,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.
“STDs are a persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond,” he said in a press release.
Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis can typically be cured with antibiotics.
However, if they’re left untreated they can lead to serious health problems, including infertility and stillbirth.
These diseases can also go unnoticed because they don’t have symptoms or the symptoms can be ignored.
The CDC also stressed that growing STD rates have a far greater impact on certain parts of the population.
Women, babies, and gay and bisexual men are the most affected of these groups.
Chlamydia causing serious problems
With more than 1 million cases of chlamydia in 2016, the disease is the most highly reported of all the major STDs.
Its rate of infection increased about 5 percent from the previous year. Cases of the disease are significantly higher for young women between the ages of 15 and 24, than the rest of the population.
Chlamydia infection in women may be asymptomatic, making regular screening for the disease a necessity.
It’s more harmful in women because, if untreated, it can result in pelvic inflammatory disease, which may lead to infertility and other issues with pregnancy.
The disease can also be passed on to children from their mothers. This can lead to complications, including blindness and pneumonia in babies.
The issues with syphilis and gonorrhea
Syphilis rates increased by roughly 18 percent from 2015 to 2016.
The majority of the cases occurred in men, particularly gay and bisexual men.
Syphilis is also characterized by a high rate of HIV coinfection. Nearly 50 percent of gay and bisexual men with syphilis were also HIV-positive, compared with 10 percent of heterosexual men.
The disease is also appearing more frequently in babies, being passed down from their mothers. The rate of that condition, known as congenital syphilis, nearly doubled to 632 cases between 2012 and 2016.
Congenital syphilis is most common in the African-American community.
“Every baby born with syphilis represents a tragic systems failure,” said Gail Bolan, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, in a statement. “All it takes is a simple STD test and antibiotic treatment to prevent this enormous heartache and help assure a healthy start for the next generation of Americans.”
Cases increased by 22 percent in men and 14 percent in women between 2015 and 2016. The disease is most prevalent among African-Americans and Native Americans.
Why is this happening?
While the CDC’s report helps paint a picture of the current STD problem gripping the nation, it does less to explain why it’s happening or how we got here.
The report touches on the threat of drug-resistant gonorrhea, but it doesn’t say that it’s specifically responsible for growing rates of the disease in the United States.
They are continuing to monitor this issue.
Instead, health officials seem to think it has a lot more to do with education and access.
“We know that there’s a vast unmet need for reproductive and sexual health care and education in the U.S. Too many people don’t have the health care and education they need in order to keep themselves healthy, and STD rates continue to be a significant public health concern,” Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told Healthline.
The CDC recommends that in order to bring down rising STD rates, local and national health departments must be able to disseminate and provide up-to-date information and preventive resources to patients.
Certain population groups, including young men and women as well as gay and bisexual men, must make regular STD screening a standard part of their care.
“The only way to know your status for sure is by getting tested,” said McDonald-Mosley. “Part of combatting STD rates is helping people get comfortable talking about STDs with partners, using protection, and getting tested as a normal, healthy part of a good sex life.”