Less than 20 years ago, STIs were at historic lows. Syphilis was close to elimination. In 2021, however, sexually transmitted infections are at an all-time high, yet the importance of prevention and screening seems to have fallen by the wayside. Recent statistics published by the CDC on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are alarming. According to CDC statistics, on any given day in 2018, 1 in 5 people in the U.S. had a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Chlamydia, the most common bacterial STI, hit its highest number ever recorded in one year by the CDC in 2018, 1.7 million cases. Around 500,000 cases of Gonorrhea were reported in 2018, the highest number reported since 1991. Not only are STIs at an all-time high, but the increase has been steady, reaching new records year after year since 2014.
Several factors are contributing to the prolonged increase in STIs, including declining public concern, a high rate of asymptomatic infections for several common STIs, and shrinking budgets, causing a lack of access to screening. Medical advancements ironically have also contributed to the increase in STIs. Innovations in healthcare, including antibiotics and rapid molecular diagnostics, have given a false sense of security. Many people believe that STIs are mostly a thing of the past, assuming they are at low risk of infection and low risk of medical complications should they contract an STI. All of these contributing factors exacerbate each other.
While STIs can have serious health consequences, they are treatable. However, people do not always experience symptoms and therefore do not receive proper treatment. When left untreated, even STIs with reasonably minor symptoms may increase the transition of other infections. For example, an untreated chlamydia infection may cause inflammation and increase the transmissibility of HIV and other more serious infections.
Timely detection plays a critical role in treating and reducing transmission rates for all STIs. Not only do the rising trends indicate changes in education and behavior, but they also signify changes in healthcare and access to clinical diagnostics. Although no single solution will reverse these trends, early and accurate detection is critical for fighting this growing health crisis.
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“CDC estimates 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have a sexually transmitted infection.” CDC.
Meyerowitz, E. A., MD, and Goldstein, R., MD, PhD. (2019) “Sexually transmitted infections are on the rise: Should you worry?” Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/sexually-transmitted-infections-are-on-the-rise-should-you-worry-2019121118370
“STDs at record high for 6th year in a row.” (2021) Medical Laboratory Observer (MLO).
Vitelli, R., Ph.D. (2020) “Why Are Sexually Transmitted Diseases on the Rise?” Psychology Today.