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Sexually transmitted diseases rise to record high, CDC reports

Ben Schmitt
| Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, 2:36 p.m.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta.
REUTERS
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta.

Federal health officials released a report Tuesday showing a record surge in three sexually transmitted diseases: chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.

More than 2 million new cases of the three diseases were reported in the United States last year, which is the highest number ever , according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The majority of new diagnoses — 1.6 million — were chlamydia infections. There were 470,000 gonorrhea cases and almost 28,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis — the most infectious stages of the disease.

Pennsylvania cases of chlamydia rose between 2015 and 2016 from 53,460 to 56,930. Gonorrhea cases increased in the state from 12,791 to 14,603. Primary and secondary syphilis increased from 655 to 755.

The three STDs can be treated with antibiotics. However, if left undiagnosed and untreated, they can have serious health consequences, including infertility, life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth in infants and increased risk for HIV transmission, the CDC said.

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

Syphilis rates increased by nearly 18 percent from 2015 to 2016. The majority of these cases occurred among men — particularly gay and bisexual men, according to the report. The CDC said there was also a 36 percent increase in rates of syphilis among women, and a 28 percent increase in congenital syphilis, or syphilis among newborns.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist who lives in Pittsburgh, said the trend is worrisome.

“Sexually transmitted infections often arise in networks of individuals and it will be important to probe the data to uncover trends and points where interventions could be best targeted,” said Adalja,a senior associate of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

The CDC recommended several steps states and doctors can take to slow the rise of STDs.

• State and local health departments should refocus efforts on STD investigation and clinical service infrastructure for rapid detection and treatment for people living in areas hardest hit by the STD epidemic.

• Providers should make STD screening and timely treatment a standard part of medical care.

• Everyone should talk openly about STDs, get tested regularly, and reduce risk by using condoms or practicing mutual monogamy if sexually active.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Bencschmitt.

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