STIs hit record high


Key points to remember

  • STI rates in the United States have reached record highs for the sixth consecutive year.
  • Experts say this increase may be due to a lack of sex education and existing disparities.
  • The US government has launched a National Sexually Transmitted Infections Strategic Plan for the United States to improve and expand STI prevention and care programs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared in a new report that documented cases of sexually transmitted diseases chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in the United States reached an all-time high in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available. . This is the sixth consecutive year that cases have reached an all-time high.

An announcement regarding the report notes that the rate of STDs, also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), has skyrocketed over the past two decades.

“Less than 20 years ago, gonorrhea rates in the United States were at historic lows, syphilis was nearing elimination, and advances in the diagnosis of chlamydia have made it easier to spot infections.” Raul Romaguera, MPH, said the acting director of the CDC’s STD Prevention Division in the announcement. “These advances have been lost, in part due to the challenges our public health system faces.”

The report found that there were 2.6 million STDs diagnosed in the United States in 2019, up from around 2.5 million cases in 2018.

“This news is not surprising, but it is not the fault of individuals – it represents a bigger failure of sexual health education programs in the United States,” Marybec Griffin, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Behavior, Society and Politics at the Rutgers School of Public Health in New Jersey, says Verywell. Women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, agrees, telling Verywell the data is “not incredibly surprising as the numbers have been steadily increasing over the past five years.”

Here’s what you need to know about the report.

Young people are disproportionately affected

Health departments across the United States reported the following data on STDs, according to the report:

  • 1.8 million cases of chlamydia, an increase of almost 20% since 2015
  • 616,392 cases of gonorrhea, an increase of over 50% since 2015
  • 129,813 cases of syphilis, an increase of over 70% since 2015

Congenital syphilis, a disease that occurs when a mother with syphilis passes the infection to her baby during pregnancy, has increased by 279% since 2015. Almost 2,000 cases of congenital syphilis were reported in 2019, including 128 deaths .

Young people have been disproportionately affected by STIs. More than 55% of the cases reported to health services involved adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24. There are also racial disparities. Although it accounts for 12.5% ​​of the population, about 31% of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis among non-Hispanic blacks. Men who have sex with men were also disproportionately affected by STDs.

The CDC notes that cases of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea are on the rise. In 2019, it was estimated that more than half of all gonorrhea infections were resistant to at least one antibiotic. “Ongoing monitoring of antibiotic sensitivity patterns is essential to inform gonorrhea treatment guidelines,” the report says.

Why STD cases are on the rise

The report didn’t address the reasons for this steady increase, but sexual health experts have a few theories.

Lack of education

Griffin says a lack of comprehensive sexual health education in middle and high schools across the country may be to blame. “The United States has always lagged behind other countries when it comes to sexual health education, and every year we add more and more teens who don’t have the education they need to. protect yourself and make informed decisions, ”she says.

The quality of sexual health education “varies enormously” in the United States, Griffin says. “Only 30 states mandate sexual health education that includes information on HIV prevention,” she said. “However, these requirements vary and only 18 of those states require the information to be medically accurate.”

That, Griffin says, is a big deal: “We can’t expect people to know how to prevent STIs if they don’t get information about them – which means that sexual pleasure, consent, sexual orientation and includes medically accurate STIs and pregnancy prevention information. ”

A taboo subject

America’s reluctance to talk about sex and sexual pleasure is also a problem, Griffin adds. “So many people don’t know that they need to tell their providers about the types of sex they are having – you absolutely should,” she says. “The types of sex you have have an impact on the types of STI screening you should get.”

More tests

The increase in chlamydia cases may simply be due to more testing, Peter Leone, MD, associate professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and professor of medicine at the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Verywell said. “We haven’t always had diagnostic tests for this,” he says. “This is really the trend over the last decade.”

Leone is particularly concerned about the increase in cases of congenital syphilis. “This shouldn’t happen,” he says. “It’s a total failure of the system when you see that.”

The disparities

Certain social and economic conditions, including lack of medical insurance or a regular and regular health care provider, poverty, drug use, and a high burden of STDs in some communities, also contribute, Wider says. .

When it comes to disparities in STD cases, the CDC says this likely reflects different access to quality sexual health care and differences in characteristics of the sexual network. The organization cites the example of having a greater chance of encountering an STI in communities with a higher prevalence of STIs compared to communities at low risk, regardless of patterns of sexual behavior.

What this means for you

If you are sexually active, talk to your partner about your STD status and use barrier methods to protect yourself. You should also get tested regularly for STDs.

How to prevent STDs

The CDC offers some tips for preventing STDs:

  • Practice abstinence. It’s the most reliable way to avoid STDs, the CDC points out.
  • Get vaccinated against HPV. Although the vaccine does not protect against all STDs, it can help reduce the risk of getting certain strains of HPV that can lead to cancer.
  • Reduce your number of sexual partners. The fewer sexual partners you have, the lower your risk.
  • Practice mutual monogamy. This means that you and your partner are monogamous with each other.
  • Use condoms. The CDC recommends using a male latex condom whenever you have anal, vaginal, or oral sex. “The barrier methods work,” says Leone.

Next steps

The Department of Health and Social Services has launched a National Strategic Plan on Sexually Transmitted Infections for the United States, which is a roadmap for public health, government, community organizations and other stakeholders to develop, improve and scale STI prevention and care programs at local, state, tribal and national levels.

STI prevention groups are also using telehealth options and partnerships with pharmacies and retail health clinics to help make testing and prevention services more accessible.

Griffin recommends that people use the skills they have learned while navigating the pandemic to talk about STDs. “We’ve all been used to talking about our behaviors, who we see and the risks we’ve taken with COVID-19,” she says. “These are the same kinds of conversations we should be having with our sexual partners about STIs. Use your new skills to protect yourself from STIs. ”

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