January 29, 2019
Emergency departments around the US are seeing a 39% increase in the number of visits related to sexually transmitted infections (STIs), according to a recent report from the CDC. The flood of patients ending up in the emergency department for STI care is just 1 symptom of a growing public health crisis.
After decades of progress at reducing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the United States is seeing a dramatic reversal of fortunes. The CDC has documented sharp increases in the number of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis since 2013. Chlamydia remained the most common infection with 1.7 million—almost half of which affected young women. Total cases of STIs reached an all-time high of 2.3 million in 2017.
This growing epidemic results in more than $16 billion a year in costs associated with these illnesses, according to David Harvey, MSW, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors. Untreated, such infections can lead to poor pregnancy outcomes, infertility, chronic pelvic pain, and an increased risk of HIV infection.
“We are sliding backward,” said Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention in a statement. “It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to [the] near-breaking point.”
Eroding public health infrastructure and funding are key contributors to the trend, along with a complex brew of social and economic trends, experts say. And reversing it will take a renewed commitment to public support for sexual health care, as well as a concerted effort by primary care clinicians to make sexual health a priority.
“Health care providers are just absolutely critical to this,” said Laura Bachmann, MD, MPH, the medical director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention.