For the fourth year in a row, STD rates in the United States are on the rise (i.e. if you feel like you’ve heard this before, you have). In 2017, nearly 2.3 million sexually transmitted diseases were diagnosed, which marks an increase over 2016’s then-record high by more than 200,000 cases. These numbers refer specifically to cases of chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea, each of which pose significant risk factors for those infected. Though this annual increase in STD rates is not new to this year, it does mark part of a troubling overall trend upward, the CDC says, announcing these findings at the National STD Prevention Conference on Tuesday.
“We have seen steep and sustained increases over the last five years,” Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the Division of STD Prevention at the CDC, told NBC News. “Usually there are ebbs and flows, but this sustained increase is very concerning. We haven’t seen anything like this for two decades.”
About 45 percent of 2017’s 1.7 million cases of chlamydia, the STD most commonly reported to the CDC, were diagnosed in women and girls age 15–24. Chlamydia, which is easily transmitted by any kind of sexual activity, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women if left untreated, which can in turn cause permanent damage to the reproductive system.
Dr. Edward Hook, the scientific committee chair of the National STD Prevention Conference, told CNN that “most sexually transmitted infections are transmitted by people who do not know that they’re infected.” While the CDC recommends that sexually active women under 26 be screened for chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea once every year, evidence suggests that fewer than half of those women are.
Meanwhile, the amount of money spent on comprehensive sex education continues to decline. Hook told CNN, “The purchasing power of the CDC’s budget for sexually transmitted disease prevention has declined 40 percent in the past 15 years.” The Trump administration, with its focus on abstinence-only education, is only expected to compound the issue.