Syphilis, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia Cases Reach Record Highs in US

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The CDC is urging greater focus on the country’s STD epidemic after publishing new reports that syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia cases have hit an all-time high in the US. Getty Images
  • The CDC published a new report that found the number of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia cases have reached an all-time high in the United States.
  • Experts say the rise can likely be attributed to the recent opioid epidemic, less use of condoms, and cuts to national and local STD programs.
  • Now, the CDC says it’s time to put a greater focus on the country’s STD epidemic.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show 3 sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the rise in the United States — and have been for the past 5 years.

In 2018, the total number of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia cases reached an all-time high since the organization began tracking the infections back in 1991, according to the report, which the CDC published Tuesday.

Over 1.7 million cases of chlamydia were reported last year, a 3 percent increase from 2017.

About 580,000 cases of gonorrhea were reported, which marks a 5 percent increase, along with a 14 percent spike in syphilis.

The rise in STDs has many health experts concerned, as it could have massive implications on public health.

Infertility rates could rise, and the infections could continue to contribute to a range of health issues, including strokes, meningitis, dementia, cardiovascular complications, and neurological conditions.

The mother-to-child transmission of STDs, specifically congenital syphilis, is also worrisome, as it puts the pregnancy at a higher risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, and even lifelong physical and neurological issues.

As the CDC states, it’s time to put a greater focus on the country’s STD epidemic and better manage the spread of these infections.

“You have to have a multifaceted approach to really deal with this problem, and of course they’d like to start with education — people have to understand that safe sex is still very important even in the age of antibiotics and antiretroviral drugs,” Dr. Dean Winslow, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told Healthline.

The report points out a few factors contributing to the uptick.

First, is the recent opioid epidemic. Some experts suspect drug use could open up a person’s inhibitions and cause people under the influence to become less concerned about practicing safe sex.

On top of that, people may be using condoms less often.

Despite the fact that condoms have been proven to effectively prevent the spread of STDs, some theorize that HIV medications such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) have progressed to the point that people are more complacent and less afraid of contracting HIV and other infections.

“There are very few people in monogamous relationships using very few condoms. There isn’t a lot of concern among most patients when diagnosed with an STI,” said Dr. Philip Grant, an infectious disease physician who works in the Stanford Positive Care Clinic.

But, PrEP doesn’t prevent the transmission of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. And if anything, these diseases have become more difficult to treat now due to antimicrobial resistance, according to Winslow.

However, data has been mixed on whether or not using HIV prevention drugs has had any direct impact on the rising STD rates.

Lastly, the CDC’s report claims significant funding cuts to the country’s STDs programs are also to blame.

Over half of local programs took a financial hit, causing several clinics to close, and reductions in screenings, staff, and patient follow-up care, according to the report.

Tremendous cuts to safety net and public health services started back in the 80s and have largely continued in recent years, according to Winslow.

These cuts drastically affect how and when people are diagnosed and treated for STDs and has the potential to put a major strain on our public health system.

“If you have to hospitalize a patient or [treat] a complication of an infectious disease or a stage of an infectious disease that requires hospitalization… it is vastly more expensive than diagnosing infection early in someone and then actually treating them early and then preventing that person from transmitting it to other people,” Winslow said.

First and foremost, it’s crucial to remember these STDs are extremely contagious.

“For both gonorrhea and chlamydia if one has sexual contact with infected individuals, then one has up to a 75 percent chance of becoming infected. For syphilis, if one is exposed sexually to an open sore infected with syphilis, the attack rate is about 30 percent,” Grant said.

Medications alone will not prevent the spread, and there are no preventive vaccines that can provide immunity.

Condoms and safe sex are very important for protecting yourself.

In addition, Grant said that people should also limit their number of sexual partners and partake in routine testing.

Grant added that there also needs to be more education and awareness on the benefits of condom use and fewer partners.

“We need to actually fund walk-in STD testing and treating centers much like we had in many areas throughout the country in the 1970s and 80s — but again we’ve really just absolutely slashed our public health budget. Making testing and treatment facilities available again would be a huge thing in getting this situation under control,” Winslow said.

If you have people who are susceptible and there’s not adequate public health services in place, these diseases can explode easily — which is exactly what has transpired across the United States.

The CDC released a new report Tuesday highlighting the recent increase in STDs.

In 2018, the total number of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia cases reached an all-time high since the organization began tracking the infections back in 1991.

The rise can likely be attributed to the recent opioid epidemic, less people using condoms, and the massive cuts to national and local STD programs.

Now, the CDC says it’s time put a greater focus on the country’s STD epidemic.



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