When it comes to the fight against sexually transmitted diseases, US health officials appear to be losing ground.
Rates of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia infections — STDs that federal health officials actively track — all rose in 2015, according to a new report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In two of the three cases, the increases were in the double digits. Syphilis cases increased by 19 percent, gonorrhea by nearly 13 percent, and chlamydia by nearly 6 percent compared with 2014.
The CDC estimates that at any one time there are 110 million cases of STDs in the US, when herpes and human papillomavirus infections, which are not tracked by the agency, are factored in the equation. Some people would have more than one of these infections at once.
Previous downward trends in rates have been reversed in recent years, the report showed. For instance, in 2009, the gonorrhea rate hit a historic low, with only 98 cases per 100,000 people. That rate was up to nearly 124 cases per 100,000 people in 2015 — a 26 percent increase.
Meanwhile, syphilis rates in 2000 and 2001 were at the lowest rate since reporting on these diseases began in 1941 — 2.1 cases per 100,000 people. But the number has climbed nearly every year since and is now at 7.5 cases per 100,000 people, the CDC reported.
More than two-thirds of the 1.5 million of the newly reported cases of chlamydia in 2015 were in young people aged 15 to 24. The same age group accounted for half of the new diagnoses of gonorrhea, the report said.
Gay and bisexual men accounted for the majority of new cases of syphilis, the report said, noting 82 percent of the cases in men were in gay and bisexual men.
All three infections can be cured with antibiotics — although gonorrhea is rapidly acquiring resistance to these key drugs. Left untreated, though, these infections can cause a range of long-term problems, including infertility, chronic pelvic pain, and an increased risk of contracting HIV.
Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said the US must put more resources into the fight against STDs.
“STD rates are rising, and many of the country’s systems for preventing STDs have eroded. We must mobilize, rebuild and expand services — or the human and economic burden will continue to grow,” he said in a statement.
The CDC noted that in recent years STD programs in many states have experienced budget cuts — more than 20 health department STD clinics closed in one year alone.
“STD prevention resources across the nation are stretched thin, and we’re beginning to see people slip through the public health safety net,” Mermin said. “Turning the STD epidemics around requires bolstering prevention efforts and addressing new challenges — but the payoff is substantial in terms of improving health, reducing disparities, and saving billions of dollars.”