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CDC warns of record rise in STD cases in US

Last year saw record levels of diagnoses of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), according to the latest data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

In 2017, nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were diagnosed in the United States, prompting Jonathan Mermin, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, to warn that the country is “sliding backwards”. 

“It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point,” he cautioned.

The latest analysis of data on STD cases from 2013 to 2017 showed a fourth consecutive year of steep increases in STD diagnoses. Gonorrhea diagnoses were up 67 percent overall, nearly doubling among men, while primary and secondary syphilis cases were up 76 percent. 

Chlamydia was the most common of the STDs reported to the CDC, with around 1.7 million cases diagnosed last year. Nearly half of these (45 percent) were among women aged 15 to 24. 

How are these STDs treated?

All the conditions above can be cured with antibiotics. Since 2015, the CDC has recommended treating gonorrhea with a single dose of ceftriaxone along with an oral dose of azithromycin. 

When caught and treated in the early stages, syphilis is a relatively easy STD to cure. Typically, physicians will prescribe penicillin, a single dose of which can stop the progression of the disease in patients diagnosed within a year of contracting the disease. Patients who have had syphilis for longer may require further doses. 

Chlamydia is also treatable with antibiotics. The most common drugs prescribed to cure the condition are doxycycline and azithromycin. Caught early and treated properly, the infection usually heals within two weeks.

The problem of antibiotic-resistant STDs

Alongside the release of data revealing a surge in STD diagnoses in the United States, the CDC also warned of the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea. 

While physicians may prescribe azithromycin alongside ceftriaxone as a treatment for the infection, the drug is administered to help delay the development of gonorrhea with a resistance to ceftriaxone, the only antibiotic that remains “highly effective” as a treatment for the disease. 

CDC findings revealed an increase in resistance to azithromycin in lab samples, with the proportion resistant to this antibiotic rising from one percent in 2013 to four percent in 2017. 

Gail Bolan, MD, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, warned: “We can’t let our defenses down - we must continue reinforcing efforts to rapidly detect and prevent resistance as long as possible.”

How to avoid contracting an STD

  • Abstinence: Avoiding sexual intercourse is the only sure way to avoid contracting an STD, but there are other steps you can take to minimize the risk of infection. 

  • Use a condom: Condoms help prevent against many infections, although be aware they are not always effective. Certain STDs, such as herpes or human papillomavirus (HPV), can still be contracted through skin-to-skin contact with someone with an infection. Condoms are the only form of contraception that provides protection against STDs, although Evofem Biosciences is currently developing an on-demand vaginal contraceptive antimicrobial drug called Amphora for the prevention of urogenital chlamydia in women, which the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has already granted Fast Track designation. 

  • Have fewer sexual partners: The fewer sexual partners you have, the less exposure you have to the risk of contracting an STD. 

  • Explore vaccination options: Vaccines are available for certain STDs, including HPV and hepatitis B. If you are concerned about your risk of contracting these STDs, speak to your physician or a sexual health professional for vaccination advice.

  • Regular testing: Getting tested regularly will not stop you contracting STDs, but it can ensure any infection is caught early and treated. Some STDs, such as chlamydia, can be symptomless, so unless you are tested regularly, it can be difficult to spot. Even conditions with few STD symptoms can result in health complications further down the line, so if you are concerned you may be at risk of having an STD, it is vital that you get tested so you can start a course of treatment as soon as possible.