WOMEN'S HEALTH
February 4, 2009

STDs on the Rise

Sexually transmitted diseases — chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are all on the rise, according to a new report from the CDC. What you can do.

The Center for Disease Control released its 2007 statistics earlier this month, with the alarming news that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are still on the rise. The young and African−American subpopulations seem to be the most affected by what remain the three most common STDs — chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

Chlamydia can result in pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and lead to female infertility.

Chlamydia is the most commonly reported disease to the CDC — not just of the STDs, but of all diseases. In 2007, the reports of Chlamydia were the highest ever received, at 1,108,374 people. Officials estimate that this number may actually be much higher — up to 2.8 million — suggesting that most cases are going undiagnosed. Young women, aged 15−19, are the most frequently diagnosed group, and African−American women are eight times more likely to contract the disease than Caucasian women. Chlamydia can result in pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and lead to female infertility.

The second most frequently reported disease is gonorrhea, with over 355,000 cases in 2007. The number of reports had declined drastically from 1974 to 1997 (dropping 74%), and has remained fairly steady since then. It seems to affect men and women almost equally, and African−Americans make up 70% of new cases. Like Chlamydia, officials estimate that the actual number of cases may be twice the number that is reported. Affected men may develop inflammation of the epididymis, a condition that can lead to infertility and may be very painful. If the bacteria spreads to the blood and joints it can be life−threatening; if it thrives in the eyes, it can lead to blindness. Like Chalmydia, gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility in women.

Commenting on the Chlamydia and gonorrhea situations, John Douglas, who heads the Department of STD Prevention at the CDC said in an interview that, "[o]f all the causes of infertility, this is probably the most preventable — since these infections can be prevented, diagnosed and treated."

Syphilis is the least common of the three diseases, but rates rose for the seventh year in a row, increasing 15% from 2006 to 2007. This is particularly disappointing news, since in the 1990s rates had dropped to 90% of their previous levels, with the year 2000 marking an all−time low. Since then, syphilis rates have risen a shocking 81%. Sixty−five percent of the cases reported in 2007 were diagnosed in gay and bisexual men, adding to the high overall number of cases in males, which is six times that of females (ten years ago it was virtually equal). African−Americans were diagnosed seven times more than Caucasians, though this disparity is significantly less that it was in 1999. Late stage syphilis can lead to heart and nervous system problems, blindness, and even death.

The CDC says that the fact that syphilis was thought to be almost eradicated less than ten years ago but is again major health risk is a sign that prevention measures need to be reevaluated. Fine−tuning these methods to match the changes in how diseases spread is an on−going challenge the CDC must face.

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