It’s exhausting to continue talking about this year after year, but here we are…again. This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published STD surveillance data for 2018 that show cases of reportable sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis- are at record levels. Also we see a troubling trend where our most vulnerable populations – including newborns! -continue to be hardest hit.
The 35,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis cases reported in 2018 represent a 14% increase over the previous year. It’s unfathomable to me that in 2018 there was also a 40% increase in congenital syphilis (when the infection is passed from a mother to baby during pregnancy). This is heartbreaking, cruel, and unacceptable.
Gonorrhea cases increased 5% to more than 580,000 reported cases and while the chlamydia incidence jumped by 3% to more than 1.7 million cases, experts think many cases are unreported and the true burden with chlamydia may be much higher. Both gonorrhea and chlamydia are frequently without symptoms (especially with females); without prompt treatment these infections can cause a number of complications including infertility. This is one reason why testing is so important, and why ASHA launched our Yes Means Test initiative to encourage STD testing among young people, especially young women.
What drives these numbers? Factors like incarceration, poverty, stigma, and homophobia all play a role. Add to that the fact that our STD control programs are constantly asked to do more with fewer resources. As a nation, we have to face the reality we are choosing to tolerate STD rates at epidemic levels.
I ask you to please learn the facts, take a stand, and speak up. Get started with a visit to the advocacy page of ASHA’s website and consider becoming one of our sexual health ambassadors, too. If you have questions about STDs, visit our Ask the Experts forum for a wealth of insight.
Yours in good sexual health,
ASHA President and CEO