(CN) – Three sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday, and public health experts are raising the alarm.
For the fifth straight year, reports of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis increased from 2017 to 2018, with the CDC receiving reports of more than 115,000 syphilis cases; a 5% rise in gonorrhea cases to 580,000; and 1.7 million chlamydia cases, a 3% increase.
“This is a continued worrying trend,” David Gondek, an associate biology professor at Ithaca College who conducts research on chlamydia, said in a phone interview.
Syphilis is of particular concern to CDC because it can be passed to newborns. Deaths from so-called congenital syphilis shot up 22% from 2017 to a total of 94 fatalities in 2018. Five states — Texas, California, Florida, Arizona and Louisiana — accounted for 70% of those cases, the CDC says, noting that syphilis testing is recommended for all pregnant women as early as possible, and again in the third trimester. The disease can be treated with antibiotics.
“STDs can come at a high cost for babies and other vulnerable populations,” Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, said in a statement. “Curbing STDs will improve the overall health of the nation and prevent infertility, HIV, and infant deaths.”
The loss of federal funding to reproductive and sexual health clinics like Planned Parenthood could contribute to the higher numbers.
“People can’t afford to get tested, and diseases spread that way,” said Sara Dixon, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. Dixon noted that her region of the organization loses $400,000 in funding annually without Title X funding. Planned Parenthood withdrew from the government’s Title X family-planning grant program earlier this year to protest a Trump administration rule that prohibits grant recipients from recommending patients for abortions.
Gondek too saw risk in the loss of funding. “That’s one of the biggest [factors], that people aren’t getting screened that should be screened,” he said.
The CDC itself said the higher numbers could be attributed in part to cuts in funding to STD programs at the state and local levels. It also said data suggest that a lack of condom use in vulnerable populations, in conjunction with other factors like drug use, stigma, poverty and unstable housing.
Gondek raised concern about gonorrhea. The first line of antibiotic defense against it, penicillin, doesn’t really work on it at all anymore, he said, as most antibiotic resistance takes hold within about five or 10 years of use.
“STDs are on the rise, particularly in regards to antibiotic-resistant strains,” he said. “We need to improve monitoring and access to treatments, particularly for those who are most at risk.”