At a moment of diminishing clinic services, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases in the country is the highest on record, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this week.
"STD rates are rising, and many of the country's systems for preventing STDs have eroded," said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, in a press statement. He added that "we’re beginning to see people slip through the public health safety net."
Noting that the new data, released Wednesday, only shows reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, the CDC says that its "annual surveillance report captures only a fraction of the true burden of STDs in America."
Indeed, the CDC says that the nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections every year rack up roughly $16 billion in healthcare costs, and can lead to long-term effects including reproductive health problems, chronic pain, and increased risk of acquiring HIV. Young people and men who have sex with men—who may face barriers to healthcare access including homophobia or poverty—continue to face the greatest risk of such infections.
Specifically, the report says there's been an "alarming" increase in the rates of syphilis. There were nearly 24,000 cases reported in 2015, which marks a 19 percent increase since 2014. There were over 1.5 million cases of chlamydia reported in 2015—a 6 percent increase since 2014 and "the highest number of annual cases of any condition ever reported to CDC." The cases of gonorrhea last year—nearly 400,000—reflect a 13 percent increase since 2014.
The increase in gonorrhea, Mermin writes, is "particularly concerning, because we may soon be running out of antibiotics to treat this infection. Over the years, gonorrhea has developed resistance to every antibiotic used, and we have recently seen clinical treatment failures with one of the two drugs in the last remaining treatment regimen. This tells us that drug resistance is emerging."
The CDC points to rightwing austerity as a contributor to the trends, saying in its statement: "In recent years more than half of state and local STD programs have experienced budget cuts, resulting in more than 20 health department STD clinic closures in one year alone. Fewer clinics mean reduced access to STD testing and treatment for those who need these services."
National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD) also warns of the "possible $5 million cut in 2017 by a Senate Appropriations subcommittee." The new data, the group says, show the need for investment in services.
"Given the surge in STDs, now is not the time to reduce funding to combat these diseases," says David C. Harvey, executive director of NCSD. "We call upon Congress to reverse the 2017 Senate funding cut and provide an increase of at least $8.1 million for STD programs. We also call upon the new administration to request additional funding for STD programs in their 2018 budget request to Congress," he continues.
According to Mermin, "We must mobilize, rebuild and expand services—or the human and economic burden will continue to grow.”