S.T.D. Diagnoses Reach Record 2.3 Million New Cases in U.S.


New cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis rose sharply for the fourth consecutive year in 2017, to a record high of nearly 2.3 million, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That number surpassed the previous record, which was set in 2016, by more than 200,000 cases. The statistics are an alarming sign that the systems to prevent and treat sexually transmitted diseases are “strained to near-breaking point,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, a top C.D.C. official.

Using condoms can reduce the risk of transmitting all three diseases, which are among the most common S.T.D.s and can be cured with antibiotics. But many cases go undiagnosed, and the diseases can cause serious problems down the line, including infertility and increased H.I.V. risk.

“Most people with these S.T.D.s do not know they are infected,” said Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the C.D.C.’s division of sexually transmitted disease prevention. “They don’t realize that these diseases are spreading silently through the country.”

Further complicating matters, gonorrhea is increasingly resistant to antibiotic treatment. Health officials expect that it will eventually wear down the last highly effective antibiotic used in the United States. It’s urgent for drug makers to develop new antibiotics to treat it, Dr. Bolan said.

Officials announced the statistics at the National S.T.D. Prevention Conference in Washington, where they cautioned that the diagnosed cases represent only a small fraction of total cases.

There were more than 1.7 million cases of chlamydia diagnosed in 2017, the most common sexually transmitted disease reported to the C.D.C., representing a 22 percent increase from 2013 levels. Nearly half of those cases were among 15- to 24-year-old women.

Cases of gonorrhea, which is also prevalent among young people, increased 67 percent from 2013 levels, to a total of 555,608 new diagnoses.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea often lurk without symptoms, even as they are doing damage to the reproductive system. Both diseases can also cause pain and abnormal discharge or bleeding, and can be passed to a baby during delivery.

The C.D.C. recommends that all women under 25 be screened annually for both diseases, because of the dire consequences they can have if left untreated.

The rate of syphilis shot up 76 percent compared with 2013 levels, to a total of 30,644 new cases. Men who have sex with men made up almost 70 percent of the cases in which the partner’s gender was known. But Dr. Bolan noted that the rates were rising among women and heterosexual men.

The disease can cause sores and rashes weeks after infection, and serious neurological, optical and other symptoms later on. It is highly infectious, and pregnant women are likely to pass it on to their babies in utero, which can result in stillbirths.

The rates of syphilis declined significantly with the advent of penicillin treatment in the 1940s — so much so that many doctors do not recognize it, Dr. Bolan said.

There may be no single reason for the increase in sexually transmitted diseases. Public health officials point to deteriorating public health services, like S.T.D. testing clinics. The opioid epidemic has had an impact, as users engage in unsafe practices. Some local health departments have blamed an increase in casual sex linked to dating apps like Tinder.

Dr. Bolan said that to stop the spread of the diseases, health care providers must make S.T.D. screening a standard part of medical care.

“There’s urgent action that is needed to address these record-high S.T.D.s,” she said.



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