STD rates are rising quickly because we stopped caring enough

October 20, 2016, 11:30am

The number of reported sexually transmitted disease cases in the U.S. hit an all-time high in 2015 as infection rates for the big three STDs — syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea — rose for the second year in a row.

The U.S. now records 20 million new STD cases each year, up from 19 million a decade ago, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are a 110 million total infections estimated nationwide at any point, a big reversal from a decade ago.


“Not that long ago, gonorrhea rates were at historic lows, syphilis was close to elimination, and we were able to point to advances in STD prevention,” Dr. Gail Bolan, the agency’s director of STD prevention, wrote in a forward to the report. “That progress has since unraveled.”

The rising rates in recent years coincide with slashed budgets for half the country’s STD programming, resulting in clinic closures and cuts to clinic hours, reduced screening capacity, and reduced ability to track disease spread, according to Bolan. The rise in syphilis, she said, could be attributed to “deteriorating public health infrastructure” as well as problems accessing both preventative care and treatment.

Syphilis cases peaked in the 1940s, declining to less than 7,000 annual infections by 2000 with hopes the disease could be eradicated. But syphilis has steadily cropped back up. There were 23,000 cases reported in 2015. Infection rates were up 19 percent in 2015, with the largest increase occurring among gay and bisexual men.

A total of 1.5 million chlamydia infections were reported in 2015, up by half a million cases in the last 10 years. (Some of the increase is likely due to more widespread testing.) This was highest annual case report of any condition ever.

The jump in the number of chlamydia infections is particularly concerning for women: If the disease goes undiagnosed or untreated, it can lead to infertility.

The case rate for gonorrhea increased 14 percent in 2015 with a total of 395,000 new infections reported, again reversing historic lows.

The increase is happening as the medical community raises concerns about drug-resistant strains of the bacteria. Earlier this year, doctors in Hawaii treated several patients with gonorrhea that showed resistance to the antibiotics most commonly used to treat the disease.