Annual report on sexually transmitted infections reveals rising trends

New figures reveal that cases of some common sexually spread diseases continue to increase in the United States. These numbers come in the annual report on sexually transmitted disease released by health officials this Thursday.

The report finds that chlamydia and gonorrhea rates continued to grow last year. More than 1.3 million cases of chlamydia were reported last year — the largest number ever reported in one year for any condition. The number of new gonorrhea cases surpassed 300,000. The rate of chlamydia rose about 24 percent, mainly because of increased screening, while gonorrhea cases are at historically low levels, dropping 16 percent.

However, less than 14,000 Americans were reported last year to have the most contagious forms of syphilis. While the number affected is fairly small, the rate of new cases had been increasing since 2001, but dropped by about 2 percent in 2010. Overall cases of syphilis rose 36 percent in the U.S. in four years and more than doubled in young, homosexual black men, leading health authorities to emphasize more frequent screening.

The increase in the rates from 2006 to 2010 means sexually active men with male partners should be tested as often as every three months, rather than annually, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report today.

Sexually transmitted diseases cost the U.S. health-care system $17 billion every year, as 19 million new cases are diagnosed annually, the Atlanta-based CDC said. Fewer than half of people who should be screened are being tested, according to the report. Untreated STDs can cause organ damage and infertility, and many people don't realize they're infected because they have no symptoms.

“Sexually transmitted infections primarily affect young people and can have long-term health consequences that can last a lifetime,” said Gail Bolan, director of the CDC's division of STD prevention. “Go in for routine health evaluation and screening even when you have no signs or symptoms.”

“Despite everything we know about how to prevent and treat STDs, they remain one of the more critical challenges in the United States today,” Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention said.

Additionally blacks and Latinos are most affected by these diseases, possibly because many people don't see a doctor until it's too late, the study authors wrote. That may be because one in five blacks and one in three Latinos are uninsured, the authors wrote.

“It's not because someone is black or Hispanic or white that results in the differences that we see in STDs. It's really what these represent in terms of differences in health insurance coverage, employment status, in ability to access preventive services or curative services. These are all factors which are going to have a huge impact on communities as well as individuals who are vulnerable to acquiring STDs or not getting them diagnosed early,” Fenton said.

Additionally while people aged 15 to 24 make up just a quarter of the sexually experienced population in the United States, they represent nearly half of all new infections. “The data really confirms that STDs primarily affect young people, and we know that this is of major concern because the health consequences can and do last a lifetime if they are untreated,” Fenton said.

While the number of women screened for chlamydia doubled from 2000 to 2010, most young females still aren't being tested, the authors wrote. The CDC recommends annual gonorrhea screening for sexually active women who have new or multiple sex partners. Annual chlamydia screening is recommended for women under 25, and older women with new or multiple sex partners. Men who have sex with men should be tested at least once a year for syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV. High-risk men should be tested every three to six months. People with any of these diseases are at greater risk for infection with human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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