From 2006 to 2010, the number of reported syphilis cases in the USA rose 36%. Among young, African-American males the rate rose by 135%, according to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The authors explained that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are hidden epidemics of huge health and economic consequences in the USA. STDs are called hidden epidemics because a considerable number of infected people are unwilling to come forward openly, and also because of the social and biologic characteristics of these types of diseases.

The authors wrote:

“All Americans have an interest in STD prevention because all communities are impacted by STDs and all individuals directly or indirectly pay for the costs of these diseases.”

The CDC believes that sexually active males with male partners should be screened for STDs once every three months, rather than yearly.

Gonorrhea – reported cases of gonorrhea fell 16% over the four-year period, down to their lowest levels ever. However, over the last year they have risen slightly. In 2010 there were over 300,000 reported cases. According to some CDC surveillance systems, gonorrhea is becoming resistant to the only medication available for this disease.

Chlamydia – the number of reported cases rose 24%, due to an increase in screenings. There were approximately 1.3 million cases reported in 2010. The majority of people in America with Chlamydia are undiagnosed – they don’t know they have it. The CDC recommends that all sexually active young women be screened annually; less than half of them do so.

Syphilis – after a long period of increased rates, the incidence of syphilis dropped 1.6 since 2009. The rate among young, African-American males rose 134% from 2006 to 2010. The rate among African-American MSM (men who have sex with men) rose considerably, the reported added.

Nineteen million new cases of STDs are diagnosed annually in the USA. STDs cost the health-care system $17 billion a year.

Of those in high risk groups, only half are being tested, the authors wrote. A significant number of infected individuals are unaware, because they have no symptoms.

One quarter of sexually active Americans are young people. However, young people represent nearly half of all new reported STDs. Sexually transmitted diseases, if left untreated, can have long-term consequences:

  • Gonorrhea and Chlamydia – if left untreated, these two STDs can cause permanent infertility in a woman. 24,000 US women become infertile each year because of STDs.
  • Syphilis – if left untreated, complications can result in brain, cardiovascular and organ damage. A pregnant woman who is infected can give birth to a newborn with congenital syphilis. Congenital syphilis can result in stillbirth, perinatal death, neurological complications in those who survive, and physical deformity. 40% of newborns whose mothers have untreated syphilis die.

    Untreated syphilis can lead to serious skin problems, as seen below:

    Extragenital syphilitic chancre of the left index finger PHIL 4147 lores
    Primary chancre (ulceration) of untreated syphilis on the hand

  • HIV risk – individuals with Chlamydia, syphilis or gonorrhea have a higher risk of becoming infected with HIV, according to recent studies.

The authors wrote:

“STDs are public health problems that lack easy solutions because they are rooted in human behavior and fundamental societal problems. Indeed, there are many obstacles to effective prevention efforts. The first hurdle will be to confront the reluctance of American society to openly confront issues surrounding sexuality and STDs. Despite the barriers, there are existing individual- and community-based interventions that are effective and can be implemented immediately. That is why a multifaceted approach is necessary to both the individual and community levels.

To successfully prevent STDs, many stakeholders need to redefine their mission, refocus their efforts, modify how they deliver services, and accept new responsibilities. In this process, strong leadership, innovative thinking, partnerships, and adequate resources will be required. The additional investment required to effectively prevent STDs may be considerable, but it is negligible when compared with the likely return on the investment.

The process of preventing STDs must be a collaborative one. No one agency, organization, or sector can effectively do it alone; all members of the community must do their part. A successful national initiative to confront and prevent STDs requires widespread public awareness and participation and bold national leadership from the highest levels.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist