The number of reported cases of three major sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States — chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis — increased last year for the second year in a row, reaching an all-time high, according to a report released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The groups hardest hit by this increase are teenagers and young adults, as well as gay and bisexual men. CDC officials also point to a troubling increase in syphilis among newborns, who can contract the disease from their mothers during childbirth.
A total of 1.5 million chlamydia cases were reported to the CDC in 2015 — the highest number of annual cases of any medical condition ever received by that agency. Almost 400,000 cases of gonorrhea and nearly 24,000 cases of syphilis were also reported.
The number of syphilis cases increased the most in 2015, up 19 percent from the previous year. Gonorrhea cases rose by 12.8 percent, and chlamydia, by 5.9 percent.
As the new report makes clear, however, these numbers represent “only a fraction of the true burden of STDs,” because many cases go undiagnosed and unreported. In addition, several other STDS — most notably, human papillomavirus, herpes simplex virus and trichomoniasis — are not routinely reported to the CDC.
The impact of budget cuts
“We have reached a decisive moment for the nation,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, in a released statement. “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.”
As the CDC report points out, more than half of state and local STD programs experienced budget cuts during the past decade, and more than 20 health department STD clinics closed in 2015. These developments have made it more difficult for people to receive early treatment for STDs, which can be cured in most cases with antibiotics. Without early treatment, however, STDs can lead to severe and often irreversible health problems, including stroke, blindness, chronic pain, infertility, and an increased risk for HIV.
CDC officials estimate that STD cases cost the U.S. healthcare system almost $16 billion each year.
The state saw 21,128 reported cases of chlamydia in 2015 (up 6 percent from the previous year), 4,097 cases of gonorrhea (up 1 percent) and 654 cases of syphilis (up 4 percent).
Yet, even with those troubling increases, Minnesota’s rates of STDs are generally lower than those of most other states, according to the new national report.
The rate of reported cases of chlamydia in Minnesota in 2015 was 389 per 100,000 people, compared to a national rate of 475.3 per 100,000. And for gonorrhea, Minnesota’s rate of reported cases was 75 per 100,000, well below the national rate of 122.7 cases per 100,000.
Minnesota’s rate of reported cases of syphilis — 4.5 per 100,000 — does not, however, place the state among the group with the lowest rates in the nation, although it is significantly below the national rate of 7.6 cases per 100,000.
Certain demographic groups are disproportionately burdened by the risk of STDs, as the CDC’s national report points out:
- Although STDs heavily affect both men and women under the age of 25 (two-thirds of chlamydia diagnoses and half of gonorrhea diagnoses are among that age group), young women tend to experience the most serious long-term health effects. CDC officials estimate that undiagnosed STDs cause infertility in more than 20,000 women in the U.S. each year.
- Reported cases of congenital syphilis — cases in which the infection is transmitted from a pregnant woman to her baby — increased by 6 percent in 2015.
- Men account for more than 90 percent of all syphilis cases in the U.S. And men who have sex with men account for 82 percent of the cases where the gender of the sex partner is known.
- People who live in poverty and/or who are uninsured have higher rates of STDs than their wealthier or insured peers. “Although the overall proportion of adults without health insurance decreased from 13.3% in 2013 to 10.4% … in 2014,” the CDC report states, “many people in the U.S. may still not have access to health care. For example many of the states with the highest burden of STDs and disparities in STD incidence did not expand Medicaid coverage as the [Affordable Care Act] allowed.”
“STD prevention resources across the country are stretched thin, and we’re beginning to see people slip through the public health safety net,” said Mermin. “Turning the STD epidemics around requires bolstering prevention efforts and addressing new challenges — but the payoff is substantial in terms of improving health, reducing disparities and saving billions of dollars.”
For more information: You can read the full “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report” on the CDC’s website.