Aside from the fact that they’re sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), what do chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis all have in common? Their rates are increasing.
There are more cases of STDs today than ever before, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Several reasons have been posited as to why the rates of STDs are going up, but the big one looks to be a decreased use of condoms. Since condom use, the only proven way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and infections, is going down, it only makes sense that the rates of STDs are going up.
Whatever the reasons, experts are alarmed.
“This is not encouraging news, we want to be making progress by educating people to take certain precautions when engaging in sexual activity,” said Laure McKechnie, a nurse practitioner at Lynn Women’s Health, a gynecology and obstetrics practice associated with Lahey Health.
The CDC report, issued last August, said 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were diagnosed in the U.S. in 2017, surpassing the record set in 2016 by more than 200,000.
The report outlined the following STDs of concern:
- Gonorrhea diagnoses increased 67 percent overall, from 333,004 to 555,608 cases and almost doubling among men, from 169,130 to 322,169. Increases in diagnoses among women — and the speed with which they are increasing — are also concerning, with cases going up for the third year in a row, from 197,499 to 232,587.
- Primary and secondary syphilis diagnoses increased 76 percent, from 17,375 to 30,644 cases.
- Chlamydia remained the most common condition reported. More than 1.7 million cases were diagnosed in 2017, with 45 percent among 15- to 24-year-old females.
What’s more is that untreatable gonorrhea persists in the United States, and reports of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea abroad have only reinforced the concerns. Gonorrhea has become resistant to nearly every class of antibiotics used to treat it, except to ceftriaxone, the only remaining highly effective antibiotic to treat gonorrhea in the United States.
While STDs have become commonplace in our culture, McKechnie reminds patients that they are also causes of morbidity and other serious complications. For example, untreated chlamydia and gonococcal infections may result in pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain in 10 to 20 percent of cases.
These diseases (now commonly referred to as sexually transmitted infections) can result in adverse outcomes in pregnancy, including spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, premature birth, and congenital infection. Finally, the presence of STIs can facilitate HIV transmission. So, prevention needs to be given high priority.
Many health care providers offer a comprehensive approach to STD/STI prevention that is based on five major strategies. These include accurate risk assessment, with education and counseling of at-risk individuals; vaccination; identification of patients with these infections; diagnosis, treatment and counseling and follow-up of those infected; evaluating and counseling of partners of infected people.
“Every individual needs to understand the risk of sexual activity when it isn’t practiced safely. Using condoms is so important,” McKechnie said. “If you’re ever unclear about safe sex practices, be sure to ask a health care provider.”