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STD Prevalence Skyrockets Amid Concerns Over Growing Antibiotic-Resistance

Cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were in decline until the 1970s, at which point the trend reversed.1 What’s worse, in more recent years, some of the STDs typically requiring antibiotics have become resistant to the drugs and have turned deadly. No less than three of the more commonly transmitted diseases have now reached record levels in the U.S.

Nationwide, there were 1.6 million cases of chlamydia in 2016, 470,000 cases of gonorrhea and 28,000 new cases of syphilis. Although all three have the potential of being cured with antibiotics, mutations of the bacteria that cause these infections have led to increasing antibiotic resistance.

Syphilis Becoming Increasingly Antibiotic-Resistant

For example, syphilis is resistant to azithromycin, the second drug of choice for this infection,2 and recent research3 looking at syphilis samples from the U.S., South America, Europe, Africa and Australasia found both of the two main strains of syphilis have developed antibiotic resistance.

The Street Strain 14 (SS14), which is a newer strain, appears to be far more drug-resistant than the older Nichols strain. A whopping 90 percent of the SS14 samples had drug resistance genes. There’s also evidence showing all three STDs are developing multidrug resistance (pan-resistance). Gonorrhea is already resistant to all antibiotics that have been used against it, and is rapidly developing resistance against cephalosporins, the drug of last resort.

STD Rates Skyrocket in California

According to a recent report4 by the California Department of Public Health, STD prevalence in the state has increased by 45 percent in the past five years alone.5,6 In 2017, 300,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported, with 54 percent of cases occurring in those under the age of 25. In addition to a decline in condom use, lack of sex education and fewer STD clinics due to budget cuts, state health officials believe internet dating apps have played a significant role in this troubling trend.

As noted by James Watt, chief of the division of communicable disease control for the Department of Health, “The internet allows for a broadening of sexual networks, and the broader that gets the more opportunity you have for sexually transmitted diseases to spread.” African-Americans are disproportionately affected, with chlamydia and gonorrhea rates five times higher than Caucasians. They also have double the rate of syphilis.

Distinct variations can also be seen between the sexes. Chlamydia rates are 60 percent higher among women than men, and while syphilis is still more prevalent among men, it has suddenly skyrocketed among women, increasing sevenfold between 2012 and 2016.

As noted by Watt, this is of great concern, as “syphilis can have long-term complications like blindness, hearing loss and other neurological problems.” Men, meanwhile, have twice the rate of gonorrhea than women. Both gonorrhea and syphilis are more prevalent among bisexual and homosexual men because these diseases are most readily transmitted during male-on-male sex.

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