STD rates rising for nation’s young; failure to teach risks of sex blamed
The rates of three curable sexually transmitted diseases all rose last year, indicating that the nation is losing ground in that public-health battle.
A record 1 million chlamydia cases were reported in 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Nov. 13 in its annual surveillance report on sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs.
Gonorrhea rates rose for the second year, and the rate for syphilis — which was slated for eradication a few years ago — rose for the sixth year.
The cases are part of an estimated 19 million new sexually transmitted infections that occur each year, almost half of which are contracted by people younger than 24 and which have direct medical costs of about $15 billion a year.
“STDs pose a serious and ongoing health threat to millions of Americans,” said Dr. John Munroe Douglas Jr., director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention.
Most of the reported increases are occurring in young women, men who have sex with men, and ethnicor racial-minority populations, Dr. Douglas said. He and other CDC officials called for more attention to STDs in public discourse and among health care providers.
“This has been an extraordinarily frustrating problem for those of us at the federal level, as well as folks at state and local health departments,” he said.
The American Social Health Association, which focuses on STD prevention, has long offered public information about the three reported STDs, plus those that are not reported, such as genital herpes and human papillomavirus.
Another organization, the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, recently started a free “self-assessment” Web site (www.stdwizard.org), which allows people to anonymously list their symptoms and receive medical guidance.
The CDC notes that correct and consistent condom use is effective against contracting or spreading chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.
But Dr. Gary L. Rose, president and chief executive of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, said the continued increases in STD rates “can be directly attributed to a failure in contraception-focused education to fully teach” young people about the risks of disease. “Riskavoidance is the only sure way” to avoid unwanted pregnancy, disease and other emotional consequences of teen sexual activity, he said.
Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and a frequent critic of the CDC, said the new data are more evidence of “misplaced priorities and misspending” by the agency.
“Effective prevention against STDs and other communicable diseases requires targeting resources towards those interventions that actually work, such as routine testing, partner counseling and education that emphasizes risk-avoidance,” said Mr. Coburn, an obstetrician-gynecologist.
The new CDC report finds that in 2006:
The chlamydia rate rose 5.6 percent, to 348 cases per 100,000 population. Chlamydia is often asymptomatic and is especially com- mon among teenage and collegeage women.
The gonorrhea rate grew 5.5 percent, to 121 cases per 100,000 population or 358,366 cases.
The rate of syphilis, which reached a record low in 2000, rose to 3.3 cases per 100,000 population or 9,756 cases. Syphilis among males is now nearly six times the rate of females, even though it used to be about even a decade ago.