The CDC's latest annual report on sexually transmitted infections, released this week, contains both good news and bad news about the state of STIs in 2010.
The good news is that the year saw rates of syphilis fall for the first time in nearly a decade. The bad news is that STIs still remain a significant problem in the US, with 19 million new infections each year (at a cost of $17 billion dollars to the health care system). Gonorrhea and chlamydia, the other two infections measured in the report, haven't followed syphilis' pattern. Rates of gonorrhea rose slightly, while chlamydia saw an uptick consistent with its rising rates over the past 20 years. While much of chlamydia's increase is due to a higher rate of screening, fewer than half of all sexually active women have ever been screened at all, an indication that rates for the disease are higher than reported.
Just as worrying as these trends are the disparities they reveal. While syphilis may be on the decline overall, its rate of infection among young gay African American men has more than doubled, following the same pattern as the rate of HIV infection. African Americans and Hispanics carry a disproportionate burden for STIs in general, with rates far higher than those of whites. Young people aged 15-24 are similarly at risk, accounting for half of all new infections even as they represent only a quarter of sexually active people in the United States.
Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, was quoted on these disparities:
"It's really what these represent in terms of differences in health insurance coverage, employment status, in ability to access preventive services or curative services. These are all factors which are going to have a huge impact on communities as well as individuals who are vulnerable to acquiring STDs or not getting them diagnosed early."
Here at Planned Parenthood, we're dedicated to increasing access to affordable, quality care, including STI education, screening and treatment, regardless of ability to pay. We've touted the message of GYT (Get Yourself Tested) before, and we'll do it again - the best way to protect yourself and others is to know your status. To make an appointment, click here or call 800-230-PLAN.