Tag Archives: syphilis

The clap is making a comeback — as are syphilis and chlamydia

Syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia are catching on with more and more people, says the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Image credits Paul Sableman / Flickr.

Rates of these sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the rise, the CDC warns in a recent report. Both the number of infections per capita and the total number of cases for all three STDs have been steadily rising since the 2000s. All in all, the report adds, infection rates are at their highest level since the CDC began keeping track of chlamydia cases in 1984.

A social endeavor

The CDC says that the increase isn’t automatically attributable to a bump in the number of infected individuals. As testing becomes more commonplace, each state naturally reports higher numbers of positive results. The observed increase, the CDC explains, can be caused by more states reporting on cases of these three STDs, or by them improving testing practices.

Still, the recent increases from year to year, when testing practices have not dramatically changed, likely indicate an increase in the number of infections themselves, the authors note.

For chlamydia, they report, increased testing and the refinement of testing methods (the report notes to the expanded use of “nucleic acid amplification tests” between 2000 and 2011 in particular) likely drive most of the observed increase in cases. This view is further reported by a separate CDC document that found no statistically significant increase in the chlamydia rate between 1999 and 2012.

That being said, the current report does note that the current prevalence of chlamydia is “surprising”, especially among young, sexually-active women. Around 4% of women aged 15 to 24 tested positive for the disease, compared to 1% of men in the same age group and under 1% for both men and women in other age groups. Chlamydia is generally asymptomatic in women, the report notes, meaning that many then act as unwitting carriers of the disease to male partners.

Syphilis and gonorrhea are less common, the report notes. However, both have seen recent rises in prevalence, after falling to historic lows in the early 2000s. Gonorrhea infections in particular increased by 82.6% since reaching a historic low in 2009. The CDC suggested that “multiple factors” are at play, including “drug use, poverty, stigma, and unstable housing, which can reduce access to STD prevention and care,” “decreased condom use among vulnerable groups,” and “cuts to STD programs at the state and local level.”

Both increases seem to be primarily driven by “men who have sex with men” (MSM, a stated-sexual-preference-neutral term used by the CDC and other public health organizations). MSM accounted for the majority of primary and secondary syphilis diagnoses since at least 2014, the report adds. By 2015, MSMs were 24 more likely to have gonorrhea than women, and 31 times more likely than “men who have sex with women.” In a companion release, the CDC suggested that “multiple factors, including individual behaviors and sexual network characteristics,” may determine the high prevalence of STDs among MSM. Those network characteristics included “high prevalence of STDs, interconnectedness and concurrency of sex partners, and possibly limited access to healthcare,” as well as socioeconomic disadvantage among certain MSM subpopulations.

One of the most heartbreaking findings from the study is a dramatic increase in syphilis cases among newborns (congenital syphilis); the reported number of such cases nearly tripled since 2014 to 1,306 cases in 2018.

Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is also featured in the report. The CDC explains that over half of such infections reported in 2018 were resistant to at least one antibiotic. However, the centers also explain that ceftriaxone, the ‘first line of defense against gonorrhea’, remains effective at its intended role.

The full report “Sexually transmitted diseases Surveillance 2018” is available here.

Gonorrhea and syphilis continue to surge amid government cuts

A report published by Public Health England (PHE) found that there was a 20% increase in syphilis in the UK. It’s the largest number of reported cases since 1949. Gonorrhea is also on the rise.

These babies are still the best way to prevent STIs.

The good news is that overall, the rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) remained stable in 2017 compared to 2016 — but there’s also a lot of bad news. Following the 10-year trend, syphilis rates continue to grow, with the vast majority of cases (78%) being reported in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. Black and minority ethnic populations are also disproportionately affected.

Across all STIs, the highest rates of diagnoses are reported among individuals aged 16 to 24, which again, is both good and bad news. The good news is that these cases can likely be prevented by simply using a condom, and awareness campaigns (especially in schools and universities) can have a big impact. The bad news is that the health impact of these infections can be devastating.

Dr. Gwenda Hughes, Consultant Scientist and Head of Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) Section at PHE, said:

“Sexually transmitted infections pose serious consequences to health – both your own and that of your current and future sexual partners. The impact of STIs can be considerable, with some causing infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and harm to unborn babies. Consistent and correct condom use with new and casual partners is the best defence against STIs, and if you are at risk, regular check-ups are essential to enable early diagnosis and treatment.”

Doctors and researchers have expressed great concern at the rise of gonorrhea, which is threatening to become completely drug-resistant. In March, the first case of super-gonorrhea was detected in the UK, and drug resistance is one of the main reasons of health concerns worldwide. Meanwhile, the government continues to make significant cuts to the management of these diseases.

Overall, there were 422,000 diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) made in England, including 7,137 diagnoses of syphilis and 44,676 diagnoses of gonorrhea.

However, the report ends on a very positive note. Genital warts have decreased by a whopping 90% since 2009, reflecting the widespread administration of the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine in girls aged 12-13. It’s another case of vaccines pushing back a very dangerous disease

Read the full report and breakdown of data here.