CDC: Sexually-transmitted diseases hit another record high

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HARTFORD – The Centers for Disease Control reported that sexually transmitted disease cases reached an all-time high in 2015, with alarming increases in syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.

There are currently 1.5 million people with chlamydia, 400,000 with gonorrhea, and 24,000 with syphilis in the United States. When all sexually transmitted diseases are included, over 110 million people are infected.

Three of the disease are up markedly this year including syphilis which is up by 19 percent, gonorrhea which is up by 13 percent, and chlamydia which is up by 6 percent. The CDC is rightly calling this very concerning and that it will require a coordinated effort to combat this trend.

Factors that may be at play here: millennials are pushing off marriage, which increases their number of sexual partners, half of state and local STD programs had their budgets cut in the past few years, over 20 health department STD clinics were closed in a single year, and the fear of HIV has lessened from the time it was a horrible death sentence to where it is now so there is less awareness of the need to use protection.

The chances of contracting an STD is very high and every sexual contact, genital, oral or anal, outside of a longstanding monogamous relationship in someone who has been tested and is free of disease needs proper barrier protection. We also need people to limit the number of partners they have. We need to have greater access to screening because without screening, these diseases cannot be treated and people don’t know they are carriers. Syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia are all curable with antibiotics but not treating them can result in chronic pain, infertility, and other preventable adverse effects.

We need to target education to those groups most at risk. Over 50 percent of STDs are contracted by people 15-24 and gay or bisexual men are also at particularly high risk. This means that education to these groups in particular about abstinence, limiting the number of partners you have, the need for protection if you choose to engage in sex, and the need to screen for these diseases is critical. Doctors need to ask about sexual contact even if they don’t expect that it is occurring and teens need to be more forthcoming in being truthful so they can get screened or educated.

Finally, we need to have wider adoption of HPV vaccination for women and men to reduce the risk of that disease as well. While HPV is asymptomatic for most men, it greatly increases the risk of cervical cancer in females and anal cancer in males and females.

Dr. Michael White of the UConn School of Pharmacy