Why The CDC Is Warning About A Recent Uptick In STDs

According to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases of syphilis and gonorrhea have been surging at a level not seen in years. Gonorrhea has seen a 45% increase since 2016 and syphilis has seen a 52% increase.

Hilary Reno, an associate professor at the Washington University School of Medicine and medical director of the St. Louis County Sexual Health Clinic, described the increase to the New York Times as "stunning." Syphilis nearly ceased to exist back in 2000 and these days, young physicians are in some instances seeing their very first cases. This is worrying health practitioners, as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause critical damage to major organs and render women infertile.

Health experts believe the most recent surge was in part due to the pandemic and people getting tested less frequently. They also suggest that opioid misuse played a role, as these drugs make people less inhibited and more prone to practicing risky behavior, such as not wearing a condom during sex (per New York Times).

What are gonorrhea and syphilis?

According to the experts at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), if you have an STI then you are at a higher risk of HIV and problems during pregnancy, among other serious conditions.

Gonorrhea is caused by bacteria transmitted during vaginal and other forms of sex, notes ACOG. It's more likely to be passed through people who have multiple sex partners. Women often don't get tested because the symptoms can resemble a minor vaginal infection; however, gonorrhea symptoms can also include rectal bleeding or pain as well as vaginal bleeding between periods. Syphilis is most often passed through sexual contact, though it only needs to enter the body through a cut or through contact with someone else's syphilis sore. Someone can also contract syphilis if they come in contact with the rash that emerges in the later stage of the disease.

Both gonorrhea and syphilis are treated with specific kinds of antibiotics. If treated early, it's possible to avoid the severe long-term effects of these diseases. Those at risk for gonorrhea should get an annual screening. This includes all sexually active women under the age of 25, in addition to other high-risk groups, per CDC. Testing for syphilis is recommended for pregnant women, as well as yearly for men who have sex with men.

To prevent yourself from contracting an STI, the ACOG strongly advises always using a condom, knowing your partners and their sexual histories, and avoiding sores in the genital area.