We’re well into the fall season but honestly, this feels like Groundhog Day. This week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published STD surveillance data for 2015 that show cases of reportable sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)—chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis—are at record levels. Also we see a continuation of the same trends we’ve been worried about for years, namely our most vulnerable populations of young people, women, and men who have sex with men continue to be hardest hit.
The 24,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis cases reported in 2015 represent a 19% increase over the previous year, with men who have sex with men enduring a huge burden. Gonorrhea cases increased nearly 13% to 395,216 reported cases and while the chlamydia incidence grew by 5.9% to more than 1.5 million cases, CDC believes the true burden of chlamydia is much higher. Both gonorrhea and chlamydia frequently have no symptoms (especially with females); without prompt treatment these infections can cause a number of complications including infertility.
We know many factors are behind these alarming increases: mass incarceration, poverty, stigma, homophobia. Add to that the fact that the best STD control programs we develop are limited by a complex array of issues including stable housing, transportation to clinics, and leave time from work. For sexual minorities, finding a safe, caring medical home remains a significant challenge.
We have reason for hope, of course. The public health field has countless dedicated professionals hard at work, and our colleagues in the STD Prevention Division at CDC lead the way. It’s never been more vital for those in the fields of sexual health and social justice to maximize our resources by building coalitions and working together.
It’s also critical to articulate that sexual health must no longer be viewed as distinct from our overall health; the two are intertwined and each impacts the other.
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