November 22, 2017
Couple having problems

STDs Continue to Rise in U.S.

by Amanda Z. Naprawa  

The CDC has announced that sexually transmitted disease (STD) rates continue to climb sharply in the United States. STD occurrence has been notably on the rise since 2010.

According to the CDC’s 2015 STD Surveillance Report:

  • There were approximately 1.5 million reported cases of chlamydia infections (up 5.9 percent from 2014)
  • Syphilis infections rose by 19 percent since 2014.
  • Gonorrhea cases increased by almost 13 percent since 2014.

The increases concern health officials because these diseases are mostly preventable if sexually active people practice safer sex with their sexual partners. And they are easily treatable if people have access to health care.

Anyone of any age can get an STD (more accurately referred to as a sexually transmitted infection, or STI, because it’s possible to be infected without developing any signs or symptoms). But the biggest increase in infections is among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. In fact, 15-to-24-year-olds account for half of all new STD infections. Infection rates are also high among men who have sex with men. Of significant concern is the fact that among gay and bisexual men, 50 percent of the men diagnosed with syphilis in 2015 were also HIV-positive.

STDs can have serious consequences when untreated. For instance, untreated chlamydia in women can lead to difficulty getting pregnant and can also cause ectopic pregnancy, which is potentially fatal. Likewise, untreated gonorrhea can lead to both male and female infertility and can increase the risk of getting or transmitting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. However, if appropriate and timely care is obtained, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis all are treatable.

What's behind the increase?

The increase in STDs among young Americans (between the ages of 15 and 24) is likely the result of a number of behavioral, biological, and cultural factors. Promotion of prevention techniques (abstinence, condom use), is as important as access to appropriate health care (barriers to access include an inability to pay, lack of transportation, work or school schedules, long wait times, or embarrassment attached to seeking STD services). Young adolescent women may also have increased susceptibility to certain infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea due to cervical ectopy—a normal formation of cervical cells typically seen in young adolescent females.

According to the CDC, gay and bisexual men face a complicated combination of risk factors that can lead to the high levels of STDs seen in this population. Gay and bisexual men are more likely to become infected with an STD because there is simply a higher prevalence of STDs within that population. Because many STDs are symptomless, many infected individuals may not realize that they are infected and unknowingly spread the disease.

In addition, gay and bisexual men often face significant barriers when trying to access health care. They may have trouble finding competent health care due to discrimination by health care providers or stigma associated with being a sexual minority. Gay and bisexual men also have greater difficulty obtaining insurance coverage, since many employer-sponsored insurance plans do not recognize same-sex unions. These forces combine to make it difficult for gay and bisexual men to access health care, thus reducing the number of men being routinely tested for STDs and, if needed, being treated for them.

Reducing sexually transmitted infections

All sexually active individuals need to be tested for STDs. Information about the nearest confidential testing services can be found by visiting the CDC’s Get Tested website. The CDC also strongly encourages sexually active individuals to get vaccinated against certain STDs (namely HPV and hepatitis B), to use a condom for every sexual encounter, and to avoid using alcohol and drugs, which can increase risky behaviors such as unprotected sex.

Also see Seniors, Sex, and STDs.