In troubling public health news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported just yesterday that combined cases of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia in the U.S. have climbed to the highest number on record.
With the release of its “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2015” report, the agency documented more than 1.5 million cases of chlamydia, nearly 400,000 cases of gonorrhea and about 24,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis. Syphilis clocked the largest increase from 2014 to 2015 at 19 percent, gonorrhea increased by nearly 13 percent and chlamydia rose by nearly 6 percent. In a CDC news release about the report, the agency was quick to point out that more than half of state and local sexually transmitted disease (STD) programs have absorbed budget cuts in recent years, with more than 20 public health STD clinics having to shut their doors in the space of just one year.
“We have reached a decisive moment for the nation,” said Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, in an agency news release. “STD rates are rising and many of the country’s systems for preventing STDs have eroded. We must mobilize, rebuild and expand services — or the human and economic burden will continue to grow.”
According to the new CDC report, cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea continue to be the highest among young people ages 15 to 24, with women facing the most serious long-term consequences of STD infection. Overall, young people as well as gay and bisexual men faced the highest risk of contracting an STD. In fact, men account for more than 90 percent of all primary and secondary cases of syphilis, with men who have sex with men accounting for 82 percent of male cases in which the sex of the sexual partner is known, CDC reported. CDC also noted “troubling” increases in syphilis among newborns. Untreated syphilis can lead to visual impairment, miscarriage, stillbirth and stroke.
Also in 2015, the report found that Americans ages 15 to 24 accounted for nearly two-thirds of chlamydia cases and half of gonorrhea infections; men who have sex with men accounted for the majority of new gonorrhea cases as well as primary and secondary syphilis cases; and the rate of women being diagnosed with syphilis increased more than 27 percent in 2014-2015, with the rate of babies being born with syphilis up 6 percent as well. Babies born with congenital syphilis can experience serious health problems, such as deformed bones, severe anemia, blindness or meningitis.
“STD prevention resources across the nation are stretched thin, and we’re beginning to see people slip through the public health safety net,” Mermin said. “Turning the STD epidemics around requires bolstering prevention efforts and addressing new challenges — but the payoff is substantial in terms of improving health, reducing disparities and saving billions of dollars.”
In response to the new report, the National Coalition of STD Directors noted that members of the U.S. Senate are considering a $5 million cut to state and local STD program funding. The coalition called on policymakers to increase such funding by $8.1 million in the 2017 federal budget.
CDC noted that STDs cost the country about $16 billion in medical care every year. For a copy of “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2015,” visit CDC.
Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.