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3 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surging In U.S., Reported Infections Reach All-Time High, CDC Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/CNN) -- Health officials have released alarming new data about a record-breaking rise in sexually transmitted diseases across the United States.

For the fifth straight year, cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis have all risen in the United States, according to a Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published on Tuesday.

"Combined they total 2.4 million infections that were diagnosed and reported just in last year alone," said Elizabeth Torrone, a CDC epidemiologist who worked on the new report.

Torrone added that the combined number of STD infections marks "the most cases" ever recorded since health officials in the U.S. starting monitoring them.

A rise in the prevalence and incidence of STDs can come with serious public health consequences and concerns, including infertility, drug-resistant gonorrhea and congenital syphilis, which can cause infant death. Officials pointed out that the shocking spike comes after those three diseases had been in decline for several years.

"Yet not that long ago, gonorrhea rates were at historic lows, syphilis was close to elimination, and we were able to point to advances in STD prevention," Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the CDC's Division of STD Prevention wrote in the report.

"That progress has since unraveled. The number of reported syphilis cases is climbing after being largely on the decline since 1941, and gonorrhea rates are now increasing."

"Many young women continue to have undiagnosed chlamydia infections, putting them at risk for infertility," Bolan added.

Possible factors driving this rise in STD cases, which vary depending on where you live, include a surge in people getting tested and cases being diagnosed and reported. There's also a decline in people using condoms.

The new report found that rates of reported cases tended to be highest among adolescents and young adults.

Where are cases are highest?

Four STDs are monitored nationwide and nationally notifiable to the CDC: chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and chancroid.

The states with the highest rates of cases were:

  • Alaska for chlamydia
  • Mississippi for gonorrhea
  • Nevada for primary and secondary syphilis

For each of those three diseases, rates in the District of Columbia were higher than all states.

The new report, which analyzed STD data for the year 2018, found that a total of about 1.8 million cases of chlamydia infection were reported to the CDC last year, making it the most common notifiable condition in the United States.

Why STDs are on the rise?

The report had some limitations, including that the data only included STD cases that had been reported to the CDC.

"In order for a case to be represented in the report, the infection actually needs to be diagnosed and reported," CDC's Torrone said.

"We know that there are many more infections that occur that just are not getting diagnosed and treated," she said. "The intervention that we need is really to be able to increase access to routine screening as well as quality prevention."

While the report documents the burden of these infections in the United States, it doesn't pinpoint why rates are increasing -- but Torrone had some ideas.

"I think it's important to remember that part of the increase in cases is because we're actually doing a good job getting people screened," Torrone said, but the "steep and sustained increases" in cases are unlikely explained by just increased screening alone.

"Some of that increase in incidence may be due to change in sexual behaviors," she said, such as decreases in people using condoms.

For instance, results from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, published last year by the CDC, found that among sexually active high school students, the prevalence of using a condom during a recent sexual experience increased from 46.2 percent to 62.8 percent between 1991 and 2005 but then decreased from 62.8 percent to 53.8 percent between 2005 and 2017.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)

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