A new CDC report shows that three sexually-transmitted diseases are at an all-time high in the United States, prompting a call for awareness on health risks and lifestyle change.
For the fifth consecutive year, combined cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis have risen in the United States, according to a Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published on Tuesday.
“Combined, they total 2.4 million infections that were diagnosed and reported just in last year alone,” said Elizabeth Torrone, a CDC epidemiologist who worked on the new report. According to Torrone, the number is the highest ever recorded in U.S. history.
The report also found that an alarming nationwide total of 583,405 cases of gonorrhea was reported to the CDC last year, making it the second most common notifiable condition in the United States. Rates of indicated disease climbed 82.6% since a historic low in 2009, the report found.
The CDC notes that the rise in the prevalence and incidence of STDs is of significance because they can lead to serious public health consequences and concerns, including infertility, drug-resistant gonorrhea, and congenital syphilis.
Gonorrhea is often an easily treatable disease. However, with the continued rise in the number of cases where a potentially more significant number may be undiagnosed and untreated, the disease over time develops a resistance to the readily available antibiotics and medication that are used to treat it.
Another health threat that the CDC is also looking out for is the rise of confidential syphilis. Congenital syphilis is a severe, disabling, and often life-threatening infection that occurs in infants when a pregnant mother who has syphilis spreads the disease through the placenta to her baby.
“One of the things that stands out in this new report is the new and updated data on congenital syphilis, which is one of the most tragic consequences of this growing epidemic,” Torrone said.
Researchers note that the rise for these STD cases is mainly driven by the increasing sexual activity with unsafe practices. In particular, more and more people have been opting not to use condoms during sexual intercourse.
The new report found that rates of reported cases tended to be highest among adolescents and young adults.
Meanwhile, the CDC also said that the rise might also be attributed to the more effective and sensitive screening tests that are being conducted on a national level. However, they suspect that an even higher number may be expected as some remain to be undiagnosed, thus are untreated.
“In order for a case to be represented in the report, the infection actually needs to be diagnosed and reported,” CDC’s Torrone said.
In turn, the new CDC report calls for federal, state, and local agencies to employ strategies that reduce STD incidence and help to improve sexual, reproductive, maternal, and infant health.
“We know that there are many more infections that occur that just are not getting diagnosed and treated,” Torrone said. “The intervention that we need is really to be able to increase access to routine screening as well as quality prevention.”
More importantly, Torrone notes that STD prevention, diagnosis, and treatment will only benefit those suffering from the disease if only they get tested and start practicing healthier sexual habits.
“STDs cause a significant burden to the health care system — both in terms of direct medical costs for treating STDs as well as the personal cost for people who have an STD,” Torrone said. “As the STD epidemic continues to grow in the United States, the direct medical costs and the quality of life lost will just increase as well.”