Sexually active Americans set new records in 2015. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that in the most recent year of monitoring the “total combined cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis reported … reached the highest number ever.”
Young people of both sexes, and men who engage in sex with other men, as well as Western Americans, showed the highest increases in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The actual numbers tallied like this, the CDC said with “more than 1.5 million chlamydia cases reported, nearly 400,000 cases of gonorrhea, and almost 24,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis–the most infectious stages of the disease.” The New York Times noted that syphilis infection rates jumped most sharply−by 19 percent−and officials expressed concern about the increasing numbers of mothers who passed the disease to their unborn. This can cause stillbirths and infant deaths.
“We have reached a decisive moment for the nation,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “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.”
CDC officials decried budget slashing at the state level, which they said has dismantled public health programs to prevent and treat STDs; they said 20 such state-level clinics closed in just one year. At the same time, particularly for gay and bisexual men, technology has fostered casual sex via “hookup” apps. Officials aren’t blaming tech alone for STD increases, saying the data isn’t there to do so. But the apps’ rise isn’t helping, they noted.
The STD spike also is increasing public health fears, because scientists are detecting more outbreaks of gonorrhea strains that are antibiotic resistant. Gonorrhea infections increased 13 percent in 2015, while chlamydia cases rose by 6 percent. Although STDs typically respond well to antibiotics, especially if detected early by effective testing, these new bugs don’t, meaning, the Washington Post reports:
Many people don’t actually know they’re infected with gonorrhea because they have no symptoms. … the disease goes undetected and untreated, which can cause a range of problems. Women risk chronic pelvic pain, life-threatening ectopic pregnancy and even infertility. And for both women and men, infection also increases the risk of contracting and transmitting HIV. History has shown that gonorrhea bacteria have been able to outsmart and become resistant to a long list of antibiotics that includes penicillin, tetracycline, and fluoroquinolones.
Besides gonorrhea, STDs like syphilis and chlamydia can cause a range of long-term problems, including infertility, chronic pelvic pain, and an increased risk of contracting HIV, reports Stat, the online health site. Untreated syphilis in the long-term can lead to blindness, paralysis, dementia, and organ-damage that leads to death.
I have written about the nation’s challenge in staying sexually healthy, and the STDs rise is worrisome as it imperils the health of young people whose risky behaviors had declined.
Even as federal officials warned about STDs, they also changed their recommendations on another such disease: human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that has been tied to cervical and other cancers. Experts determined from studies that teens younger than 15 who receive an inoculation, proven effective against HPV, can be protected equally well with two shots rather than the three that had been recommended before.
Officials hope this step will be another in a campaign to increase teens’ vaccination against HPV, thereby reducing cervical and other cancers. The HPV vaccine, like many, has run into resistance; some of this is due to the general doubt, which is not rooted in science, about vaccines. Some parents and physicians also are reluctant to talk about sex with young people, or mistakenly believed that the HPV vaccination would encourage premature sexual experimentation because it can be most effective if administered early to kids as young as 11.