On September 26, 2017, the CDC released a report that found that more than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported in the United States in 2016, the highest number ever.
According to the annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report, the majority of these new diagnoses (1.6 million) were cases of chlamydia. There were also 470,000 gonorrhea cases and nearly 28,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis – the most infectious stages of the disease. While all three of these STDs can be cured with antibiotics, 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.
“Increases in STDs are a clear warning of a growing threat,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., director of the 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.”
The STD epidemic is accelerating in multiple populations. The impact of STDs is growing among women, infants, and gay and bisexual men. While young women continue to bear the greatest burden of chlamydia (nearly half of all diagnosed infections), surges in syphilis and gonorrhea are increasingly affecting new populations. Syphilis rates increased by nearly 18 percent overall from 2015 to 2016. The majority of these cases occur among men – especially gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. However, there was a 36 percent increase in rates of syphilis among women and a 28 percent increase in syphilis among newborns (congenital syphilis) during this period. More than 600 cases of congenital syphilis were reported in 2016, which has resulted in more than 40 deaths and severe health complications among newborns. The disease is preventable through routine screening and timely treatment for syphilis among pregnant women.
“Every baby born with syphilis represents a tragic systems failure,” said Gail Bolan, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention. “All it takes is a simple STD test and antibiotic treatment to prevent this enormous heartache and help assure a healthy start for the next generation of Americans.”
While gonorrhea increased among men and women in 2016, the steepest increases were seen among men (22 percent). Research suggests that a large share of new gonorrhea cases are occurring among men who have sex with men. These trends are particularly alarming in light of the growing threat of drug resistance to the last remaining recommended gonorrhea treatment.
Men who have sex with men also bear a great syphilis burden, make up a majority of syphilis cases, and half of those diagnosed with syphilis were also living with HIV – pointing to the need to integrate STD and HIV prevention and care services.
The report points to a need to confront the most urgent threats. The CDC uses STD surveillance data and other tools to detect and respond to these evolving threats and new challenges, directing resources where they can have the greatest impact. For example, the CDC is strengthening the congenital syphilis response with focused efforts to improve diagnosis and treatment of pregnant women and ensure prompt treatment of newborns at birth in the ten states hardest hit by congenital syphilis. In another example, the CDC is helping state and local health departments rapidly test for drug-resistant gonorrhea and quickly find and treat affected individuals, as part of the federal government’s Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria (CARB) Action Plan.
Maintaining and strengthening core prevention infrastructure is also essential to mounting an effective national response to the STD epidemic. The CDC provides support to state and local health departments for disease surveillance, disease investigation, and health promotion. The CDC also issues and maintains testing and treatment guidelines for providers so individuals get the most effective care.
“CDC uses its national-level intelligence to detect and respond to STD outbreaks while supporting the nation’s on-the-ground workers who are spending each day protecting communities from STDs,” Dr. Mermin stressed.
See the CDC Announcement
See the CDC Report
See also Medical Law Perspectives Report: Hepatitis: Provider Malpractice and Patient Injury