There were more reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases last year than ever before in the United States, according to the latest STD surveillance report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The annual report, which was released on Wednesday, showed that the rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis — the three most commonly reported STDs in the nation — increased between 2014 and 2015, reaching an all-time high.
Reported cases of primary and secondary syphilis rose by 19%, gonorrhea cases rose by 12.8%, and chlamydia cases rose by 5.9%, from 2014. All three STDs are curable with antibiotics, but most infections go undiagnosed and untreated, according to the CDC.
“We have reached a decisive moment for the nation,” Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, said in a written statement (PDF).
“STD rates are rising, and many of the country’s systems for preventing STDs have eroded,” he said. “We must mobilize, rebuild and expand services — or the human and economic burden will continue to grow.”
The report included data on chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis from state and local case reports. Federal health officials actively track such reports, which involve a variety of private and public sources.
Data on other STDs, such as human papillomavirus, herpes simplex virus and trichomoniasis, are not routinely tracked and were not included in the new report. While HIV is a STD that is actively tracked, it also was not included in this report.
Who is at most risk?
Last year, there were more than 1.5 million reported cases of chlamydia, a disease that can damage a woman’s reproductive system and make it difficult for her to get pregnant if left untreated. Young people, 15 to 24 years old, accounted for nearly two-thirds of last year’s chlamydia diagnoses — and half of the gonorrhea diagnoses.
There were 395,216 reported cases of gonorrhea last year, and the STD has become progressively difficult to treat. Scientists at the CDC warned in July that the bacterium that causes gonorrhea, called Neisseria gonorrhoeae, is developing resistance to the antibiotic drugs used to treat it.
Men who have sex with men accounted for the majority of new gonorrhea cases last year, and antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea was found to possibly be higher among the group, the new report showed.
Overall, young people and gay and bisexual men face the greatest risk of getting a STD, according to the new report. It’s estimated that about half of the nearly 20 million new STD cases reported annually are among 15 to 24 year olds.
One of the most disturbing findings in the report revealed an increase in syphilis rates among newborns.
Congenital syphilis, which occurs when the infection is transmitted from a pregnant woman to her baby, increased by 6% between 2014 to 2015, and resulted in 487 reported cases last year.
Additionally, there were 23,872 cases of primary and secondary syphilis last year, according to the report, and men who have sex with men accounted for the majority of new cases.
“The health outcomes of syphilis — miscarriage, stillbirth, blindness or stroke — can be devastating,” Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a written statement (PDF).
“The resurgence of congenital syphilis and the increasing impact of syphilis among gay and bisexual men makes it clear that many Americans are not getting the preventive services they need. Every pregnant woman should be tested for syphilis, and sexually active gay and bisexual men should be tested for syphilis at least once a year,” she said. “To reverse the STD epidemic, we should all learn to talk more openly about STDs — with our partners, parents, and providers.”
Hope for the future
In a foreword to the new report, Bolan wrote that some 21 health department STD clinics across the country have closed due to many state and local programs experiencing budget cuts. Therefore, fewer people have access to the testing and treatment resources provided by such clinics.
Meanwhile, as more STD cases emerge, treating infections costs the country nearly $16 billion annually.
To address the recent STD upsurge, Bolan recommended that surveillance systems that collect data on new STD cases should be improved and people with new diagnoses should be provided access to treatment.
Additionally, she added that it will be important to continue to study and monitor the adverse health complications of STDs, which include the risk of infertility and a greater vulnerability for HIV, among other health effects.
“It is my hope that a decade from now, we will be reporting on progress, instead of more health inequity in our society,” Bolan wrote.