NEW YORK (AP) – Rising cases of several sexually transmitted diseases – including a 26% rise in new syphilis infections reported last year – are prompting US health officials to call for new prevention and treatment efforts.
“It is imperative that we work to prevent the resurgence, innovation and spread (STD) in the US,” said Dr. Leandro Mena of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a speech Monday at a conference healing of sex. transmitted diseases.
Infection rates for several STDs, including gonorrhea and syphilis, have been rising for years. Last year the rate of syphilis cases reached the highest rate since 1991 and the total number of cases was the highest since 1948. HIV cases are also increasing, up 16% last year.
And an international outbreak of monkeypox, which is spread primarily between men who have sex with men, has further highlighted the nation’s worsening problem with diseases that are largely sexually transmitted.
David Harvey, executive director of the National Alliance of STD Directors, called the situation “out of control.”
Officials are working on new approaches to the problem, such as home testing kits for some STDs that will make it easier for people to know they are infected and to take steps to prevent the spread of it to others. prevention, said Mena.
Another expert said that a central part of any effort must work to increase condom use.
“It’s quite simple. More sexually transmitted infections occur when people have more unprotected sex,” said Dr. Mike Saag, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Syphilis is a bacterial disease that manifests as genital sores but can eventually lead to severe symptoms and death if left untreated.
New syphilis infections in the US declined starting in the 1940s when antibiotics became widely available. They fell to an all-time low by 1998, when fewer than 7,000 new cases were reported nationwide. The CDC was encouraged by the progress it made in its plan to end syphilis in the US
But by 2002 cases started to rise again, mostly among gay and bisexual men, and they continued. In late 2013, the CDC ended its eradication campaign due to limited funding and increasing cases, which exceeded 17,000 that year.
By 2020 cases had reached almost 41,700 and they increased even more last year, to more than 52,000.
The rate of cases is also rising, hitting around 16 per 100,000 people last year. That’s the highest number in thirty years.
Rates are highest among men who have sex with men, and among Black and Hispanic Americans and Native Americans. Although the rate for women is lower than it is for men, officials noted that it is rising significantly – up about 50% last year.
That is linked to another problem – the rise in congenital syphilis, where infected mums pass the disease on to their babies, which can lead to the child’s death or health problems such as deafness and blindness It was only about 300 years ago that there were cases of congenital syphilis; they rose to almost 2,700 last year. From last year’s tally, there were 211 stillbirths or infant deaths, Mena said.
The increases in syphilis and other STDs could have several causes, experts say. Years of inadequate funding have hampered testing and prevention efforts, and delayed diagnosis and treatment may have worsened the spread—especially during a pandemic. Drug and alcohol use may have contributed to risky sexual behaviour. Condom use is declining.
And there may have been a surge in sexual activity as people emerged from the COVID-19 lockdown. “People are feeling liberated,” Saag said.
The arrival of the monkeys added a great burden. CDC recently sent a letter to state and local health departments saying that their HIV and STD resources could be used to fight the monkey outbreak. But some experts say the government needs to provide more funding for STD work, not divert it.
Harvey’s group and several other public health organizations are pushing a proposal for more federal funding, including at least $500 million for STD clinics.
Mena, who last year became director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, called for reducing stigma, expanding screening and treatment services, and supporting the development and accessibility of home testing. “I see one day when testing (for STDs) can be as simple and affordable as taking a home pregnancy test,” he said.
The Associated Press Health & Science Section is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all matters.