New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a record-breaking number of new STI cases in 2016. According to the report, released Tuesday, more than two million diagnoses of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were diagnosed in the United States in 2016 — the highest number ever recorded. At least 1.6 million of those new diagnoses were of chlamydia, which has been steadily on the rise in the U.S. for years.
All three of these STIs are treatable and curable with antibiotics, but are dangerous if left untreated. Chlamydia in particular can cause increased risk of infertility and life-threatening ectopic pregnancy in women. As the CDC report notes, young women continue to be the demographic group with the highest number of new chlamydia diagnoses.
David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, told CNN that the uptick in syphilis cases has caused a rise in the number of babies born with congenital syphilis. “For the first time in many years, we are now seeing more cases of babies born with congenital syphilis than babies born with HIV,” he said. “It means that women are not getting access to prenatal care, testing and treatment for syphilis. It’s an unconscionable situation in America today.”
Harvey attributed the rising number of STI diagnoses to few things — diminished funding for prevention and education programs, continuing debate and funding cuts around sex education (particularly under the Trump administration), and increased use of dating apps. He also said the high level of stigma surrounding STIs is partially to blame for the increased caseload.
“Unfortunately, STDs carry enormous stigma in this country, and it’s hard for people to come forward for treatment,” Harvey said. “Ironically, HIV is an STD, but we have a very visible community who advocates and works to tell stories about the impact of HIV on people’s lives. We don’t have that going for us with gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia. We need a network of voices that say it’s OK to get help.”
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