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These STDs Just Hit An "All-Time High" in US

"Progress has been lost," a top health official says.

Sexually transmitted diseases have reached an all-time high in the U.S. for the sixth year in a row, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report this week. 

"Less than 20 years ago, gonorrhea rates in the U.S. were at historic lows, syphilis was close to elimination, and advances in chlamydia diagnostics made it easier to detect infections. That progress has been lost, due in part to challenges to our public health system," said Raul Romaguera, acting director of the CDC's division of STD prevention, in a statement.

According to the CDC:

  • Chlamydia has increased 20% since 2015, totaling more than 1.8 million cases in 2019. 
  • Gonorrhea has risen more than 50% in the same time, reaching 616,000 cases in 2019. 
  • Syphilis is up more than 70% since 2015, totaling nearly 130,000 cases in 2019.

Those three STDs accounted for nearly 2.6 million cases in 2019, up from about 2.5 million the year before.

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Certain groups especially affected

Two trends show that STDs are disproportionately affecting the young. Cases of congenital syphilis—which is transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy—have risen 279% since 2015. In 2019, 128 infants died of congenital syphilis, and there were nearly 2,000 reported cases. That same year, more than 55% of STD cases were reported by adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24.

Minorities are also disproportionately affected by STDs. In 2109, STD rates were five to eight times higher for Black people than for white people, and 1 to 2 times higher for Hispanic people than for white people. Gay and bisexual men reported nearly half of all syphilis cases in 2019.

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Why is this happening?

The reason is disparate access to sexual health education and quality health care, the CDC says. "In communities with higher prevalence of STDs, with each sexual encounter, people face a greater chance of encountering an infected partner than those in lower prevalence settings do, regardless of similar sexual behavior patterns," the agency's report said. "Acknowledging inequities in STD rates is a critical first step toward empowering affected groups and the public health community to collaborate in addressing systemic inequities in the burden of disease—with the ultimate goal of minimizing the health impacts of STDs on individuals and populations."

Although the report covered 2019, which preceded a year of lockdowns and reduced socializing caused by the pandemic, the CDC said preliminary data for 2020 show the "concerning trends" of STD increases may continue. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael
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