In a disturbing national trend, the number of three common sexually transmitted diseases hit a record high last year, with nearly 2.3 million cases reported in the U.S. – eclipsing the record set in 2016 by more than 200,000 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Comparing data from 2013 with 2017’s preliminary data showed “steep, sustained increases” in reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, the CDC said, also warning that gonorrhea is showing signs of becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.
“We are sliding backward,” Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in a statement. “It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point.”
The findings were released Tuesday at the National STD Prevention Conference in Washington, D.C.
Along with dramatic increases in syphilis cases (up 76 percent from 2013) and chlamydia cases (a 45 percent increase among girls and women 15 to 24 years old), CDC officials said they are concerned about a spike in gonorrhea. The number of cases went up 67 percent overall but nearly doubled in men, from 169,130 cases in 2013 to 322,169 cases in 2017.
The disease also has spread among women for the third year in a row and went from 197,499 cases reported in 2013 to 232,587 cases in 2017, according to a CDC press release.
Though STDs are usually treated with antibiotics, “most cases go undiagnosed and untreated,” the CDC said. The agency noted earlier studies have pointed to a range of factors that could be tied to STD increases, “including socioeconomic factors like poverty, stigma, and discrimination; and drug use.”
Meanwhile, researchers are worried about the looming threat of an “untreatable” form of gonorrhea that is evolving over time in the U.S., even as an antibiotic-resistant strain has emerged overseas.
New CDC findings show the share of gonorrhea samples that are resistant to azithromycin – prescribed for the disease to stave off its resistance to the separate antibiotic ceftriaxone – has quadrupled, from 1 percent in 2013 to more than 4 percent in 2017.
“We expect gonorrhea will eventually wear down our last highly effective antibiotic, and additional treatment options are urgently needed,” Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a statement. “We can’t let our defenses down – we must continue reinforcing efforts to rapidly detect and prevent resistance as long as possible.”