Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis — three of the most common STDs — grew for the second consecutive year, with sharper increases in the West than other regions.
WASHINGTON — There were more cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) reported in the United States last year than ever, according to new federal data. Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis — three of the most common STDs — grew for the second consecutive year, with sharper increases in the West than other regions. And while all three diseases are treatable with antibiotics, most cases continue to go undiagnosed, potentially causing infertility and other problems.
The syphilis rate rose most sharply, by 19 percent. Public-health officials are particularly worried about an increase in the number of babies whose mothers are passing it to them in utero, which can cause stillbirths and infant deaths. Progress in the fight against STDs has “unraveled,” according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Q: Who is most affected by the rise in STDs?
A: Young people, members of racial minorities and men who have sex with other men are at most risk of getting an STD.
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Chlamydia rates are highest among 15- to 24-year-olds, who accounted for nearly two-thirds of diagnoses last year, and among blacks. While chlamydia disproportionately affects women, the rate of reported cases among men grew more sharply last year. Overall, the rate of reported cases grew by 5.9 percent.
Chlamydia is the most common of the STDs that have to be reported to the CDC, with more than 1.5 million cases last year.
Most of the new gonorrhea and syphilis cases were among gay men, although rates are climbing for women, too. Public-health officials are worried that gonorrhea is becoming resistant to the some of the last antibiotics capable of treating it. Although gonorrhea rates are highest among blacks, they have jumped in the past few years among whites and other ethnic groups.
Syphilis rates increased among men and women in every region of the country. Most cases were among men who have sex with men. But the rate of syphilis diagnosis among women grew by 27 percent, and the rate of congenital syphilis, passed from pregnant women to their babies, by 6 percent.
Q: Why is the number of cases growing?
A: Public-health officials point to a number of possible reasons, from budget cuts to what might be called the Tinder effect. Since the beginning of the economic downturn, more than half of state and local programs that provide testing and treatment for STDs have had budget cuts, according to the CDC. “Those are among the primary places where we actually diagnose and treat STDs as well as HIV,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the agency’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.
Mermin also said that the rise of dating apps such as Tinder could possibly be contributing to rising STD rates, and that some health departments believed there was a connection. “But it’s not completely clear, the cause and effect, at this point,” he added.
Q: Where is the problem worst?
A: In the past few years, the West has had bigger increases in STD rates than any other region. The number of gonorrhea cases reported in Montana almost doubled last year, for example, to 844 from 434. In California, the number of reported syphilis cases grew by 28 percent, to 4,908 from 3,835.
The South still has the highest overall rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea. Louisiana has the highest rates of gonorrhea (221 cases per 100,000 residents, compared with 124 nationally) and syphilis (15 cases per 100,000 residents, twice the national average). California and Louisiana had the most babies born with syphilis last year, about 40 percent of the total.