According to a report released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sexually transmitted infections like syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia reached an all-time high in the United States in 2018.
Between 2017 and 2018, syphilis increased 14 percent, gonorrhea increased 5 percent, and chlamydia went up 3 percent to more than 1.7 million cases, which is the highest number of cases ever reported to the CDC since 1991. Congenital syphilis, or syphilis passed down from a mother to a child, also increased 185 percent since 2014. Additionally, there was a 22 percent increase in newborn deaths associated with syphilis from 2017 to 2018.
These numbers reflect a pretty drastic increase in STIs and STI-related health outcomes, but because many cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis go undiagnosed and unreported, the statistics might not actually represent the true scope of the STI issue in the United States.
Why did this increase occur?
This uptick likely happened for a number of reasons. The report attributes the increase to a stigma around STI prevention in certain populations, decreasing condom use among groups like young people as well as gay and bisexual men, and budget cuts to sexual health programs across the country, which also impacted access to STI testing.
While the CDC notes that STIs like syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia can generally be treated effectively with antibiotics, not everyone has access to testing and treatment they need. And untreated STIs can come with some significant health risks: In addition to the risk of transmitting to a partner, they can also lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and in some cases, a higher chance of developing HIV. Passing syphilis to a baby through pregnancy can also lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or long-term health problems in the child.
“STDs can come at a high cost for babies and other vulnerable populations,” said Jonathan Mermin, the director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, in a statement, adding that curbing STIs is an important move for improving American public health.
For everyone who is sexually active — especially those without access to the care they need for diagnosis and treatment — the prevention of STIs is more important than ever.
How can STIs be prevented?
Fortunately, there are a number of effective ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections. For protection against HPV and hepatitis B, vaccinations have been shown to be both safe and effective. While the general CDC recommendation is to get the HPV vaccine around age 11 or 12, and the hepatitis B vaccine is part of a child’s normal vaccine schedule, you can get these vaccinations anytime at the doctor.
To prevent unnecessarily spreading STIs between partners, the CDC also recommends getting tested for STIs with your partner before having sex — but that's not always possible, so if you're sexually active, practicing safe safe sex is the most effective way to decrease the risk of sexually transmitted infections.
As a general rule, it’s important to implement correct and consistent use of condoms every time you have anal, vaginal, and oral sex. (If you or your partner have a latex allergy, you can use synthetic, non-latex condoms, but keep in mind these often have higher breakage rates than latex ones. The CDC doesn’t recommend natural-membrane condoms for preventing STIs.) If you prefer not to use a condom during oral sex, you can also use a dental dam to prevent spreading an STI.
Not sure if you have an STI, or want to be proactive about your health? Many sexually transmitted infections don’t have symptoms, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about getting tested. If money is a barrier, keep in mind that many Planned Parenthood branches offer free or low-cost testing.
More on sexual health:
- How to Bridge Conflicting Communication Styles With Your Sex Partner
- Your Low Libido Could Be a Sign of Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder
- These Are the Sex Techniques That Help With Premature Ejaculation
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Originally Appeared on Allure