Cases of sexually transmitted diseases rose to record highs in 2017 after climbing for four straight years, according to preliminary federal data released Tuesday. Officials warned not only about the “steep and sustained” spread of the diseases but the growing resistance of some of the bugs to standard treatments.
There were almost 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis diagnosed in the U.S. last year, up by more than 200,000 cases from 2016, the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed.
“We are sliding backward,” Dr. Jonathan Mermin, a top STD official at the CDC, said in a statement.
Among the findings:
- Gonorrhea cases increased 67 percent from 2013 to 2017, reaching more than 555,000 last year.
- There were more than 30,000 cases of the most infectious stages of syphilis, known as primary and secondary cases — a 76 percent surge over the time frame. Gay and bisexual men accounted for almost 70 percent of the cases where the gender of the sex partner was known.
- Chlamydia remains the most common STD, with more than 1.7 million cases in 2017. Forty-five percent of them occurred in female patients who were 15 to 24 years old.
Those three bugs are curable with antibiotics if they’re diagnosed, but officials say most cases go untreated. If left unaddressed, the diseases can sometimes cause infertility and sterility, pregnancy complications, and an elevated HIV risk.
The CDC also reported on Tuesday that, in lab tests, more samples of gonorrhea are showing resistance to one of the antibiotics that authorities recommend to treat the disease.
CDC guidelines since 2015 have called on gonorrhea to be treated with a single shot of ceftriaxone along with an oral dose of azithromycin — a boost meant to extend the life of ceftriaxone against resistant bugs.
But while 1 percent of strains studied in 2013 were resistant to azithromycin, 4 percent of samples studied in 2017 were. The fear is that those azithromycin-resistant genes will spread to other strains of the bug that can already stand up to ceftriaxone.
Azithromycin has been seen as the weaker of the two drugs used in combination, but researchers have identified gonorrhea strains in Canada, Asia, and Europe that are resistant to ceftriaxone.
U.S. officials emphasized they have not yet seen a case in the country that couldn’t treated by the recommended combination therapy.
Advocates pointed to the record highs to call for a bolstered response to combatting STDs. The National Coalition of STD Directors, which represents STD officials at public health agencies around the country, estimated that the federal government needs to put an extra $70 million a year toward improving surveillance and treatment services. Federal funding for STD prevention has ticked down over the last decade and a half.
“It’s not a coincidence STDs are skyrocketing,” David Harvey, the coalition’s executive director, said in a statement.