Syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia rates reach record high in US

Rates of three sexually transmitted diseases — syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia — reached a record high level in the U.S. in 2015, and corroding prevention programs are to blame, according to the CDC.

More than half of the nation's state and local STD prevention programs have experienced budget cuts in recent years, and in one year alone, 20 shut their doors for good.

"We have reached a decisive moment for the nation," said Jonathan Mermin, MD, director of the 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."

The CDC released its annual "Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report" Wednesday, showing there were more than 1.5 million chlamydia cases, 395,216 gonorrhea cases and 23,872 primary and secondary syphilis cases reported in 2015.

That means from 2014 to 2015 there was a 19 percent increase in syphilis cases, a 12.8 percent increase in gonorrhea cases and a 5.9 percent increase in chlamydia cases.

The 2015 data show:

  • Men who have sex with men face the greatest risk of STD infection, as they accounted for 82 percent of new gonorrhea and syphilis cases.
  • There was a more than 27 percent increase in women's rate of syphilis diagnosis from 2014 to 2015, and rates of congenital syphilis (where a pregnant woman passes the infection on to her baby) increased 6 percent.
  • Young Americans, between 15 and 24 years old, account for roughly two-thirds of chlamydia diagnoses and half of gonorrhea diagnoses.

All three infections are treatable with antibiotics, and screening can help prevent their spread. When left unchecked, the illnesses can cause infertility, chronic pain, increased risk for HIV infection, miscarriage, stillbirth, blindness or stroke.

According to Dr. Mermin, "Turning the STD epidemics around requires bolstering prevention efforts and addressing new challenges."

For providers, this can mean making STD screening a standard part of medical care, especially for pregnant women.

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