CDC Announces That STD Infection Rates In America Are A Public Health Crisis
Washington DC: Tuesday, August 28, 2018, the CDC announced that the rates for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis (the most common STDs in America) increased for the fourth consecutive year in a row to a total of 2.3 million US cases.
This statement comes just one year after Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, M.D., M.P.H stated that the “increases in STDs are a clear warning of a growing threat,” and that “STDs are a persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond,” in September of 2017.
It is time [to] declare STDs in America a public health crisis,” said David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, which co-hosted the conference.
The numbers released at the 2018 STD Prevention Conference showed that the 2017 STD infection rates beat the previous record in 2016 by 200,000 reported infections.
And that’s just the preliminary findings of what has been reported. The numbers do not reflect the millions of undiagnosed, unreported, and untreated infections that are “floating around” our country and continuing to infect additional and unknowing people.
Dr. Edward Hook, endowed professor of infection disease translational research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Medicine and scientific chair of the National STD Prevention Conference stated that “It’s important for the public to understand that most sexually transmitted infections are transmitted by people who do not know that they’re infected.”
THE ONLY WAY TO KNOW IF YOU HAVE AN STD IS TO GET TESTED
Indeed, approximately 90% of women who are infected with Chlamydia present no signs or symptoms and less than half of those women are routinely screened for STDs. As such, chlamydia is the most prevalent STD in America. The CDC’s preliminary findings for 2017 STD rates tallied chlamydia rates at 1.7 million. In 2016 the reported chlamydia diagnosis in America totaled 1.6 million with 45 percent of cases occurring in young women between the ages of 15 and 24. Untreated chlamydia infections can result in serious medical complications, infertility, certain types of cancers, and can result in a condition called PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease) which can be life threatening.
Syphilis infections are also commonly associated with little to no or confusing symptoms and the rate of infection in 2017 increased by 76 percent with 333,004 diagnosed cases in 2016 to 555,608 in 2017. Men who have sex with other men (MSM) made up more than half of the infected demographic with an additional increase in instances of syphilis infections being found in infants of infected mothers (congenital syphilis).
The sharp spike in the instance of syphilis infection can be attributed, in large, to drug use. According to Harvey, “We know today that some of what is driving congenital syphilis are women who are trading sex for drugs and that that explains some of the infections we are seeing in babies of syphilis. There are infectious disease consequences of the opioid epidemic in America, including sexually transmitted infections,” he said. Syphilis can cause life-threatening damage to the internal organs, soft tissues, nervous system, and the brain if left unrecognized and untreated for a prolonged period.
Gonorrhea is another classically “silent” infection that can persist in the body without presenting any physical symptoms until after severe damage has been done to the body. The rate of reported gonorrhea infections increased 67 percent with 333,004 diagnosed cases in 2016 to 555,608 in 2017. And the instance in men was nearly double, partly due to the fact that men exhibit symptoms more quickly than women, but the damage done to the female anatomy is far more devastating than in their male counterparts.
“Men are not expected to wear Condoms…”
“The United States continues to have the highest STD rates in the industrialized world,” said Harvey. “We are in the midst of an absolute STD public health crisis in this country. It’s a crisis that has been in the making for years.
A significant correlation can be made between the advent of dating and “hook up” apps such as Tinder and Grinder. The “swipe right” ease of finding new and multiple sexual partners does much to kindle the STD fires.
An STDAware staffer’s recent conversation with a Tinder app user revealed that “The clap is rampant within the Tinder community. Men are not expected to wear condoms, and the expectation is on the woman to be on birth control.” When she was pressed on the subject of non-curable STDs being more concerning than pregnancy, our staffer was met with a shoulder shrug and an eye roll. “I don’t know.” Said the Tinder user. “That’s just the way it is if you’re dating on Tinder.”
While narratives like this may or may not be the status quo for dating app users, it is certainly alarming enough to question the general approach to sex in America. Add to that the fact that gonorrhea is very rapidly becoming resistant to almost all forms of antibiotic treatment with the exception of ceftriaxone, which is part of the dual treatment protocol that has been created to combat the emerging “super strains” of gonorrhea.
Early identification is crucial to the successful treatment of a gonorrhea infection, and prolonged exposure or repeated infection increases the likelihood of gonorrhea becoming antibiotic resistant. According to Hook “…[gonorrhea] has reliably developed resistance to every antibiotic that has ever been used to treat [it]. But over the past 15 to 20 years the [amount of new and development of] antibiotics has slowed.” Meaning that as gonorrhea develops resistance to each type of treatment, there are fewer treatment options available. “That’s a very troublesome combination,” said Hook.
“The finding adds to the complexities of gonorrhea treatment,” said Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention. “Our nation must plan for the future. Our nation urgently needs additional treatment options for gonorrhea.”
As the need for gonorrhea treatment options increases the budget for the CDC’s research and development has decreased in addition to significant title X funding cuts that impact many sexual health service providers, such as Planned Parenthood.
According to Bolan, “after decades of declining STDs, in recent years we’ve been sliding backwards.” And Harvey stated that “The explosion in STDs comes on the heels of years of cutbacks in federal funding. Federal STD funding has seen a 40 percent decrease in purchasing power since 2003. That means state and local health departments are working with budgets that are effectively half what they were 15 years ago.”
“Prevention is key to reducing the number of new STD cases — such as practicing safe sex and getting tested regularly.”
The National STD Prevention Conference continued through August 30, 2013, where health care professionals, scientists, and other experts discussed the STD epidemic and other possible solutions. According to Hook, such solutions include better sex education, increased awareness, and STD testing and treatment services.
“It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point,” said Mermin. And Rob Stephenson, a professor and director of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said that “We’re starting to see a plateau in our fight against the HIV epidemic, as well.” Stephenson further stated that ”prevention is key to reducing the number of new STD cases — such as practicing safe sex and getting tested regularly. Yet I think, when we think about sexually transmitted infections, we think of them through a curative lens, not a preventative lens. We need to switch the dial on this in people’s minds to think more about prevention rather than a too-late curative response.”
And while it is a well-known, medical fact, that almost all STDs can invade the body without any symptoms, many doctors will refuse to screen for STDs in the absence of obvious physical symptoms. The way insurance is billed for STD screenings is partly to blame for this shortcoming, but healthcare professionals are also not being encouraged to make routine STD testing a standard component of their patient assessments. “Doctors are not screening and testing for STDs, and patients don’t know they need to ask for that screening and treatment,” said Harvey at the briefing. “There’s not enough screening for sexually transmitted diseases, particularly among young people who are most vulnerable.”
“We need to switch the dial on this in people’s minds to think more about prevention rather than a too-late curative response.”
That’s where companies like STDAware come in. The ability to access STD testing directly without a doctors order or wait time can have a significant impact on the reduction in the spread of STDs.
While the price tag on private services for STD testing can be preclusive to certain groups, the cost of this type of care is often lower than it would be through traditional medical channels. And the quality and continuity of service far exceed any government or “free” clinic offerings.
In addition to affordable and convenient service offerings, STDAware provides complimentary medical consultation for any of their patient clientele who test positive for having an STD. And certain STD conditions will be treated at no additional cost. Most other private testing services only send the test results leaving the customer on their own to seek out treatment or try dangerous “home remedies.”
STDAware does work with HSA/FHA accounts to pay for STD testing and, while they currently do not bill through insurance, is making strides to eventually allow insured individuals to use their health plans when they want to. However, the added layer of ease of use and added layer of privacy using a private service such as STDAware also lends itself to young people who do not want their test results to be sent home to “mom and dad,” as one of the many benefits of being tested outside of a traditional healthcare platform. Because the stigma associated with seeking sexual health services can have costly consequences, efforts should be made to flip the mental script and in removing the stigma associated with taking charge of one’s sexual well-being. This is a critical component in the fight against STDs, especially in young people, in addition to the need to increase STD testing service offerings and quality sexual education programming.
THE STIGMA SHOULD BE PLACED ON INDIVIDUALS WHO DO NOT DEFEND THEIR SEXUAL HEALTH THROUGH ROUTINE STD TESTING
According to Michael Fraser, executive director for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, “A lack of sex education also is contributing to the spread of STDs.” Much can be done to transform the current shortcomings of sexual education, and Stephenson’s recommendations include, “[starting sex education] very early [and] talking about the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases at young ages [and thereby] giving people the behavioral skills they need to protect themselves.” Reformation of sex ed programming in American schools will take time and the measures taken between the generations of “learning” need to be swift and effective.
STDAware is committed to both excellence in service and in enhancing the education and awareness of STD risk and prevention through their no-cost, online resource center. To explore the STDAware resource center, click here.
The STD preliminary rates for 2018 will not be tallied until this time 2019 but, according to the CDC, there is no indication that they decreased, and in fact, the trends are expected to continue to increase unless extreme measures are taken to wipe out STD infections in America over the next few months. This translates into two things:
- The risk of infection is at an all-time high, and the spread of any STD is likely to be done by unknowing and undiagnosed individuals
- Being routinely tested for STDs anytime there is a change in sexual partners or habits is the most effective way to ensure sexual health
THE ONLY WAY TO TREAT AN STD IS TO IDENTIFY IT THROUGH TESTING
Early identification is vital to the successful treatment, control, and containment of any STD condition. Most STDs can be cured when caught early and adequately medicated (meaning following the doctor’s orders). STDs that cannot be cured can be managed and allow infected individuals to live a full and satisfying lives.
STDAware provides treatment, at no additional cost, to any of their patients who are diagnosed with chlamydia, gonorrhea, or genital herpes. It is important to note that being diagnosed with chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, or genital herpes increases one’s risk of contracting HIV and early detection testing should be considered at the same time as testing for any of the STDs mentioned earlier.
STDAware offers full panel and individual testing options and has over 4,000 testing laboratory locations, nationwide. Testing is quick and non-invasive. To learn more about how STDAware makes getting testing for STDs simple, fast, and convenient, click here.
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