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CDC Calls for Prevention Efforts as STDs Hit Record Highs Again

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December 5, 2017

Rates for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis  have increased to record highs for the third year in a row, according to the latest annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While the rates for these three sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have increased for both women and men, the 2016 CDC report highlights how certain groups have been hardest-hit:

  • People aged 15 to 24 have the highest reported rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea infections and are now showing an increase in syphilis cases as well.
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM) face the highest rates of syphilis and HIV  co-infection. Data also suggest gonorrhea rates for MSM have increased for five years.
  • There has been an upsurge in syphilis in newborns—known as congenital syphilis—where cases have risen to numbers unseen since 1998. A total of 628 cases of congenital syphilis were reported in 2016 (a 28% increase over 2015), with 40 newborns dying or developing severe health complications.

These three STDs can be cured with antibiotics. However, some people do not get tested because signs and symptoms of infection can be absent or easily missed. If left undiagnosed and untreated, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis can lead to adverse outcomes. including pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), infertility, and stillbirth. People with undiagnosed or untreated STDs can pass the infection on to others and increase the risk of giving or getting HIV.

Striking statistics from the 2016 CDC report
The CDC recognizes that their surveillance data capture only a fraction of actual STD cases because many infections go undiagnosed and unreported. However, the agency is confident their data provide valuable insights into the more than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis it recorded in the U.S.—the highest number of cases ever recorded by the annual surveillance report.

Among the most commonly reported STDs, there were:

  • 1.6 million cases of chlamydia (a 5% increase over 2015), with young women accounting for nearly half of all diagnosed infections.
  • 468,000 cases of gonorrhea (a 19% increase over 2015); this is particularly worrisome because of the growing threat of drug resistance to the only remaining antibiotic treatment recommended for gonorrhea. While rates went up among men and women, men had the greatest increase at 22%.
  • 28,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis (an 18% increase over 2015), with most cases affecting men who have sex with men. Half of these men diagnosed with syphilis also had HIV, highlighting the need to combine STD and HIV health services.

The importance of getting tested
According to the CDC, getting tested for STDs is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy. Data from the 2016 surveillance report show that STD screening is especially critical for women and men who have sex with men because they are uniquely susceptible to the health consequences of STDs. For these populations, the CDC offers the following recommendations:

  • If you are a sexually active woman younger than 25, or if you are a sexually active woman of any age and have risk factors such as new or multiple sex partners, you should request annual chlamydia and gonorrhea tests. If you have never been tested for HIV, you should have an HIV test.
  • If you are a pregnant woman, you should request syphilis, HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea and hepatitis B tests early in your pregnancy. If you engage in behaviors that place you at increased risk, you should also request that testing be done later in your pregnancy, usually the third trimester.
  • If you are a sexually active man who has sex with men, you should request tests for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV at least once a year. More frequent STD testing, such as every three to six months, is recommended for men who engage in high risk behaviors, including men who have multiple male sex partners.

All Americans can help turn back the rise in STD rates by committing to the CDC's three-pronged action plan: 1) Talk openly about STDs with your partners and healthcare providers. 2) Get tested. It's the only way to know if you have an STD. 3) If you have an STD, take the medication your healthcare practitioner prescribes.

If you are not comfortable talking with your regular healthcare practitioner about STDs, there are many clinics that provide confidential and free or low-cost testing. Go to the CDC's webpage Get Tested to search for a clinic that's near you.

See the section below for links to more detailed information on STD testing, prevention and treatment.

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Article Sources

NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used. To access online sources, copy and paste the URL into your browser.

Get Tested. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available online at https://gettested.cdc.gov. Accessed November 6, 2017.

(April 27, 2017) U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STD and HIV Screening Recommendations. Available online at www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/screeningreccs.htm. Accessed November 6, 2017.

(September, 2017) Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2016. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Atlanta, Ga.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2017. Available online at www.cdc.gov/std/stats16. Accessed November 6, 2017.

(September 1. 2017) CDC Fact Sheet: Reported STDs in the United States, 2016. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available online at www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/factsheets/std-trends-508.pdf. Accessed November 6, 2017.

(September 26, 2017) 2016 STD Surveillance Report Press Release. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available online at www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2017/std-surveillance-report-2016-press-release.html. Accessed November 6, 2017.

(September 26, 2017) Frellick, Marcia. STD Rates Continue to Skyrocket in the United States. Medscape. Available online at www.medscape.com/viewarticle/886221. Accessed on November 6, 2017.

(September 26, 2017) Steenhuysen, Julie. New STD Cases in U.S. Set Record High in 2016: CDC Report. Reuters. Available online at www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-health-stds/new-std-cases-in-u-s-set-record-high-in-2016-cdc-report-idUSKCN1C12KX. Accessed November 6, 2017.

(October 3, 2017) American Academy of Family Physicians. STDs Hit All-Time High, Says CDC. Available online at www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20171003cdcstdrpt.html. Accessed November 6, 2017.