Why STDs are on the rise in the U.S.

March 29, 2019 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , OTHER , United States

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By

Jori Hamilton

 

 

Over the last few years, STD rates have broken record highs in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report, record highs of more than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported in 2016.

 

“While all three of these STDs can be cured with antibiotics, if left undiagnosed and untreated, they can have serious health consequences, including infertility, life-threatening ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth in infants, and increased risk for HIV transmission,” the CDC announced in a press release. This represents a growing threat to health, especially in women, infants, and gay and bisexual men, who have been found to be the most at-risk populations.

 

Between 2015 and 2016, rates of syphilis increased by almost 18 percent overall, affecting primarily men who have sex with other men, although rates increased for women and newborns during this time as well. This spike has STD rates higher than ever.

 

Newborns are affected when a pregnant woman does not receive an STD test as part of a pregnancy visit, which should happen routinely. When this step is missed, newborns can contract congenital syphilis, which can be a serious, life-threatening infection that spreads from the mother through the placenta. Doctors recommend that pregnant women be tested for syphilis at their very first prenatal visit, and sometimes again during the pregnancy to avoid this.

 

Like many other diseases, a contributing factor to the increase of STDs is has been stagnant federal funding for the CDC, which serves as the nation’s health protection agency. Without more funding for STD prevention, the CDC is unable to hire more people to increase public health education campaigns, nor is it able to make necessary testing and treatment options accessible.

 

Sex education is crucial to cultivating a population that is aware of the importance of preventative care. There are currently only 20 states in the U.S. that require sex and HIV education to be medically and factually accurate, as state laws remain influenced by religious approaches to education. This keeps today’s youth without the information they need to make sound and educated decisions about their health.

 

Another factor playing into the increase of STD rates is risky sexual behavior occurring as a part of the current social state surrounding the LGBTQ community. As sexual fluidity becomes a more mainstream concept, and society becomes more inclusive in response, certain diseases that are often prevalent in these communities spread through bridge populations.

 

According to the World Health Organization, there are over 38 million people around the world living with HIV or AIDS, a disease that compromises patients’ immune systems, resulting in about one million deaths each year. HIV/AIDS emerged in the U.S. during the 1970s, and was considered a mystery killer before enough studies were done to understand the disease. Over time, medical scientists fought to develop new treatments for the disease and found preventative methods to save people from contracting it.

 

However, these medical advances in the treatment of STDs like HIV and AIDS may also be contributing to the increases in the disease. Before successful treatment options for HIV and AIDS existed, people took more precautions to avoid the deadly disease. Today’s youth have not experienced the pressure and risk that came with sexual engagements and STDs in the past, and are therefore not taking the proper safety measures to avoid them.

 

It was only in 2012 that the medication Truvada was approved by the FDA to be used for pre-exposure prophylaxis, which is a treatment that reduces the risk of contracting the HIV infection in people who are considered to be at large risk for getting HIV. Several studies show that the treatment is anywhere between 70 and 90 percent effective in preventing HIV.

 

In 2016, youth between the ages of 13 and 24 years of age made up almost 25 percent of new cases of HIV in the U.S., and almost 10 million of new STIs that were reported in studies. In order to decrease the overall rates of STDs, better sex education would likely go a long way. Without being taught the risks and dangers associated with sex and how to avoid them, people go without the information they need make decisions that keep them safe.

 

There are socioeconomic factors that contribute to the HIV and STD epidemic as well. Over the last few decades, it has been noted that these conditions are often prevalent in communities of people of color, as well as sexual minorities.

 

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, “Structural and economic conditions including environmental resources, constraints, access to care, and psychosocial influences are examined in relation to HIV disease trajectories. Greater attention to contextual factors and co-morbidities is needed to reduce the health disparities in HIV infection.”

 

In 2016, 20 health departments closed STD clinics in their state. There has been a demonstrated pattern of the government reducing its funding for STD programs, and as the number of accessible clinics drops, the ability for people to seek testing and treatment becomes increasingly difficult. With all of these factors contributing to access and quality of care for at-risk communities, it’s not surprising that STDs are at an all time high. Without intervention, it’s unlikely that this problem will be solved.

 

 

 

 

Jori Hamilton

Jori Hamilton is a writer from the United States who is passionate about social justice, education, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter @HamiltonJori

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