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“Out of control”: STDs in the US on a sharp increase

Experts are denouncing the inadequate budget in US healthcare as STD cases start to reach record numbers.

  • At-home STD test. (KQED)

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on a sharp increase in the United States, with a 26% rise in syphilis infections reported in 2021, a case which is prompting US health officials to call for new prevention and treatment efforts.

“It is imperative that we … work to rebuild, innovate, and expand (STD) prevention in the US,” said Leandro Mena of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday. 

STD infection rates have been rising for years, including gonorrhea. Last year, rates for syphilis infections reached the highest number since 1991, with the total number of cases hitting its highest since 1948. In addition, HIV rates are up 16% from last year. By 2002, STD cases were once again on the rise, mostly among gay and bisexual men. 

Black, Latino, and Native American men have reported the most cases, which could be attributed to healthcare inequalities in the US. In contrast, the rate for women is lower than that of men, although numbers have been on the rise, up 50% from 2021.

Read more: ‘Long Covid’: Black women in the US bear the weight of medical racism

Monkeypox, a disease spread mostly through sex, has also been brought into the conversation.

Executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, David Harvey, said the situation is “out of control.”

The solution?

Officials are looking to find new approaches to the problem. Mena said that one of the solutions was home-test kits for some STDs, which would facilitate people learning that they are infected and initiate steps to prevent the spread of the disease. 

Another suggestion was to increase the use of condoms: “It’s pretty simple. More sexually transmitted infections occur when people are having more unprotected sex,” said Mike Saag, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. 

Several causes may be contributing to syphilis and other STDs, experts explain. However, the bug elephant in the room is the lack of adequate funding which has exacerbated a public health concern turning into a disaster. The increase in STD rates can also be attributed to the pandemic, due to delayed diagnosis and treatment. Another factor is drug and alcohol abuse, which contribute to risky sexual behavior, in addition to condom use declining. 

Saag goes on to explain that there may have been an increase in sexual activity as COVID-19 lockdowns receded: “People are feeling liberated,” he said. 

Monkeypox placed a heavier weight on the situation, with the CDC sending a letter to state and local health departments saying that their HIV and STD resources could be used to fight the monkeypox outbreak.

Read more: Monkeypox ‘can be contained’ in US: White House

Harvey and other public health organizations seek a federal funding proposal worth at least $500 million for STD clinics. 

Mena, on his part, stressed that the stigma should unwind; more screening and treatment services, in addition to development and accessibility, should be developed: “I envision one day where getting tested (for STDs) can be as simple and as affordable as doing a home pregnancy test,” he said.

Read next: Survivors of sexual assault in US face medical bills over $3,000

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