According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, any progress the United States made in the 1940s and 1950s in advancing STD prevention has since unraveled.

Last year, the CDC reported Americans were infected with the highest number of STDs on record: There were approximately 2 million new cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia. Today, that trend continues with a new report from California, where STD rates have hit a record high for the third year in a row.

In a report published Monday, California Department of Public Health officials revealed that 300,000 people were diagnosed with syphilis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia in the state last year. That’s a 45 percent increase from 2012 — and a rising trend that matches the overall increase in STD rates seen throughout the country.

Why California STD Rates Have Gone Up

Experts say failing condom use, few public health clinics, and an increase in sexual partners because of dating apps are all factors at blame, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, concurs when it comes to public health education, telling the Washington Post there’s been a “decimation” of public health infrastructure since the financial crisis of 2008.

“For California to have a steady increase in congenital syphilis is shameful,” Klausner argues. “We’ve known how to control syphilis since the 1990s. Seeing it come back like this is a sign of failure of the public health safety net.”

STD rates
California STD rates are on the rise. 

The most commonly reported sexually transmitted bacterial infections were chlamydia and gonorrhea. The former is caused by a bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis, and men and women can catch it during oral, vaginal, or anal sex with a person who’s infected. It can also be passed from a woman to her baby during childbirth. The latter can be passed in the same way, and if left untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious health problems.

In California, 218,710 chlamydia cases were reported in 2017 — the highest number since the state began reporting on it in 1990. Meanwhile, there were 75,450 reported cases of gonorrhea, the highest since 1988. The spread of the infections was split across sexes: Chlamydia rates among women were 60 percent higher than among men, while gonorrhea rates in males were two-fold higher than they were in females. Women aged 20 to 24 were the most likely to have chlamydia, while men aged 25 to 29 were most likely to have gonorrhea.

Of particular concern is that emerged antibiotic resistance had reduced treatment options for gonorrhea infections, making overall prevention efforts even more important.

Congenital syphilis
Stillbirths as a result of congenital syphilis are rising.

Public health officials are especially aghast at the rise of congenital syphilis infections, causing a rise in stillbirths. Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, was reported in every 34.3 cases per 100,000 Californians. Overall there were 13,605 early syphilis cases, the highest number since 1987. Syphilis can be passed from mother to children, becoming then congenital syphilis which is extremely dangerous for infants. Infection results include, but aren’t limited to, blindness and birth defects — and the number of stillbirths caused by congenital syphilis is on the rise. The report states that 278 congenital syphilis cases caused 30 stillbirths in 2017, which is nearly three times the number in 2016.

Comparatively, in the 1940s syphilis was close to elimination. Since then, it’s joined the other 25 diseases transmitted through sexual activity in ravaging health and placing an annual $16 billion burden on sick Americans. In a 2016 report, Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the CDC’s Divison of STD prevention, stated that:

“The resurgence of syphilis, and particularly congenital syphilis, is not an arbitrary event, but rather a symptom of a deteriorating public health infrastructure and lack of access to health care. It is exposing hidden, fragile populations in need that are not getting the health care and preventive services they deserve. This points to our need for public health and health care action for each of the cases in this report, as they represent real people, not just numbers.”

It doesn’t help that the first thing the CDC lists as a way to prevent STDs is abstinence. Abstinence-only programs are proven to not reduce rates of teen pregnancies or STDs.

To prevent infections, use latex condoms and have an open conversation with partners about whether or not they’ve been tested. If you’re afraid of the condom not working, here is a handy guide on how to use them right.


Check out this video, where Bill Nye predicts the future of hookup apps and STDs.

Photos via https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/CDPH%20Document%20Library/STDs-CA-2017Snapshot.pdf, CDPH, Unsplash / Alex Iby