CDC warns about steep rise in STDs among Americans

According to a statement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday (26th September 2017), in 2016, a survey has revealed that more than 2 million Americans have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) including infections such as gonorrhea, syphilis and Chlamydia. This is one of the highest numbers that have been detected till date they say.

Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention called this a “disturbing trend” saying that there is an urgent need to reverse this. He said that this is not something that the CDC can do on its own without the full cooperation of the communities in America. He explained that one way to prevent STDs is to improve awareness and public education. All communities should be aware of the risks of transmission of these infections he said.

The press release was an accompaniment with the CDC’s annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report. The report found that there were over 1.6 million of the new cases of Chlamydia infection. Further 470,000 were diagnosed with gonorrhea and approximately 28,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis were diagnosed during this time. CDC warned that these infections are easily transmitted via unprotected sex and of these, secondary syphilis is one of the most dangerous since persons with this infection are undiagnosed and often untreated. CDC report adds that these three infections – Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis need to be reported by physicians by law. If other STDs such as herpes, HIV and several other infections are included in this survey, the numbers may cross 20 million new cases of STDs in United States annually. Around one in two of the cases occur among the youth between ages of 15 and 24 years.

David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors called this situation “out of control”. He said that this situation has “enormous health implications” for Americans. This National Coalition of STD Directors includes the state, local and territorial health departments that work towards STD prevention. Harvey said each of these three STD infections gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis can lead to serious complications and outcomes including neurological problems (syphilis), infertility (Chlamydia and gonorrhea) and also raise the risk of acquiring HIV infection.

Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention called this a “growing threat” and called STDs a “persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond”.

United States had almost eliminated syphilis when the advent of antibiotics meant the elimination of the infection. But these new numbers reveal that it has ceased to be the “disease of the past” with an increase of almost 18% between 2015 and 2016 with the maximum rise among homosexual men. The infection can also pass on to babies at childbirth. This is called congenital syphilis. Around 628 cases of congenital syphilis have been reported in 2016. There have been 40 deaths and health complications due to syphilis in these babies. Harvey says that for the first time in last many years more cases of babies with congenital syphilis are seen compared to babies born with HIV. This means women are not being tested and treated for syphilis during their antenatal checkups. He called this an “unconscionable situation”.

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis

These three infections are sexually transmitted and have long term consequences in many individuals.

Chlamydia for example is one of the commonest STDs. It is caused by bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis and can be transmitted by all forms of sexual activity including vaginal, anal and oral and during childbirth. In many women, it may be silent and may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can lead to infertility and scarring. Among men it can also cause pain and swelling over the testes.

Gonorrhea is another bacterial infection caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae that may lead to symptoms of burning during urination and a discharge from the vagina or penis. It can be transmitted via anal sex as well leading to bleeding and painful bowel movements. Infertility is a long-term consequence of gonorrhea infection.

Syphilis is one of the most dreaded bacterial STD infections caused by Treponema pallidum. It can progress from primary infection to secondary and tertiary infections if left untreated. In its course, it can affect the brain and other organs leading to serious consequences. After the initial stages the symptoms may completely go away only to reappear as severe neurological disease. Initial stages are treatable with antibiotics but as the disease progresses, it becomes more difficult to treat.

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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