STDs are making a comeback


It’s not just Charlie Sheen.

Totally preventable STDs are making a comeback, which, by the way, is what clinics operated by the embattled Planned Parenthood Federation of America specialize in. But digression.

Sexually transmitted diseases have arisen across the country, according to newly published data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Specifically, reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and especially syphilis were all up last year, for the first time since 2006.

Youth were especially vulnerable, the CDC said.

“Despite being a relatively small portion of the sexually active population, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 accounted for the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea in 2014 and almost two thirds of all reported cases,” stated a news release that accompanied the 2014 STD Surveillance Report. “Additionally, previous estimates suggest that young people in this age group acquire half of the estimated 20 million new STDs diagnosed each year.”

The three diseases that the CDC measured rose by different rates. The most common, chlamydia, inched up by a rate of 2.8 percent, to more than 1.4 million infected last year. Gonorrhea, which infected 350,062 last year, rose by 5.1 percent. Both those diseases primarily affect young people.

Syphilis in its various forms infected 20,457 last year, and increased by 21.3 percent from 2013.

The rise in syphilis was markedly felt among gay and bisexual men.

But syphilis “is currently the only STD for which information on the sex of the sex partner is reported,” the news release noted, pointing to a need for more data about how sexually active people are contracting their infections.

The CDC hypothesized that a number of behavioral, environmental, social and cultural factors could leave gay and bisexual men more vulnerable to STDs. But barriers to accessing health care might also drive the disparities.

“For example, gay and bisexual men with lower economic status may have trouble accessing and affording quality healthcare, making it difficult to receive STD testing and other prevention services,” a CDC fact sheet stated.

Screening was a central recommendation of the report, and resurfaced later on during an unrelated conference call on HIV/AIDS that was hosted by the California Department of Public Health.

During the call Wednesday afternoon, State Epidemiologist Deputy Director Gil Chavez and Office of AIDS Chief Karen Mark, both of the department’s Center for Infectious Diseases, described an improving landscape, but one where the public wasn’t taking advantage of every opportunity.

For instance, Chavez said one reason for the call was to get the word out about FDA-approved drugs like Truvada, which lowers the chance of contracting HIV/AIDS in the first place for at-risk groups. The strategy is known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, and is theoretically available to uninfected people who may be at high risk on contracting the disease.

The state has a list of clinics that provide PrEP, which includes one in Sacramento County, CARES Community Health.

While new cases of HIV/AIDs have been declining on a statewide basis, they actually increased in Sacramento County last year. As we reported earlier this year, in 2014, 165 county residents were diagnosed with HIV, the most in at least eight years, and representing a 40.6 percent increase in new cases since 2010, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

At the height of the epidemic, Chavez says California recorded 13,000 new infections in a single year. The number of new infections has slowly declined over the last 15 years, Mark said. In 2013, there were just over 4,700 new statewide cases—a 64 percent decrease from the peak. Chavez says that amounts to 13 new cases every day or nearly 400 every month.

While it’s a definite improvement, California still has ground to make up. When it comes to new infections, the state ranks high, second only to Florida.

Then there are the people who are infected but don’t know about it yet. Health officials estimate that approximately 15,000 Californians are living with HIV/AIDS, but have yet to be diagnosed. If those numbers are sound, they would boost the state’s population of infected to 137,000.

In Sacramento County, state health officials know of 3,422 people who are living with HIV or AIDS.

Chavez said it’s “absolutely essential that individuals know their HIV status,” especially as improvements in medical care and treatment have reduced the disease’s lethality rate.
Mark said people with HIV/AIDS “can now expect to live a normal life span” as long as they get treated and remain in medical care. But only 59 percent of infected Californians are in care, Mark said, which is better than the national average but still troubling.

According to the state’s most recent HIV/AIDS surveillance report, contracting the disease remains a higher risk for men (87.4 percent), men who have sex with men (66.2 percent), whites (43.1 percent), Hispanics (33.4 percent) and people between the ages of 30 and 39 (38 percent).

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