Sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise with a record-breaking 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis diagnosed in the U.S. in 2017 alone. This greatly surpassed the previous year’s numbers by 200,000 cases, according to a press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC's research shows how the number of diagnoses for these illnesses has continued to increase between 2013 and 2017 in the U.S., with little sign of slowing down. There were reportedly 1.7 million cases of chlamydia, with 45 percent of cases belonging to females between the ages of 15 to 24 years old. The number of gonorrhea cases climbed 67 percent, from 333,004 to 555,608 cases. Meanwhile, primary and secondary syphilis saw a 76 percent increase, with gay or bisexual males making up about 70 percent "of primary and secondary syphilis, cases where the gender of the sex partner [was] known in 2017."  

“We are sliding backwards,” Director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, Jonathan Mermin, said, as reported in the release. 

Of the three, gonorrhea is arguably the most dangerous, because of how the disease has managed to build up a resistance to different antibiotics over time, CNN reports. Though the current dual use of ceftriaxone and azithromycin has proven successful, the threat of failure still looms as a future possibility.  

“It’s important to realize that gonococcus, the bacteria that causes gonorrhea, has reliably developed resistance to every antibiotic that has ever been used to treat the infection,” Dr. Edward Hook told CNN reporters. Dr. Hook is a professor of infectious disease translation research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Medicine. “In the past 15 to 20 years, the number of new antibiotics available and the development of new antibiotics has slowed greatly,” he said.

If untreated or undiagnosed, these diseases can lead to infertility, stillbirths, heightened risk for HIV and ectopic births. Syphilis, in particular, can lead to neurological and optical symptoms, as well as rashes and sores. 

How To Protect Yourself

According to a 2016 CDC report, 52% of STD programs saw budget cuts in 2012 at the state and local level, which led to a decrease in screening capabilities and the number of hours that clinics were able to remain open for. Considering this, experts believe that more effort should be directed toward preventative methods. 

“We need to switch the dial on this in people’s minds to think more about prevention rather than a too-late curative response,” Rob Stephenson, director of the Center for Sexuality and Health Disparities, told CNN. “There’s many ways we could do this. We could teach primary care providers and physicians to talk more about prevention with a client. We could start very early on in sex education by talking about the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases at young ages by giving people the behavioral skills they need to protect themselves.”

The CDC aggregated their own advice for protection, offering "the lowdown on how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases." Here's what they advise:

1. Practice Abstinence

The most surefire way to avoid getting an STD is to refrain from sexual activity.
2. Use Condoms

Using a condom offers protection from most STDs, but herpes and HPV can still pass through skin contact.

3. Have One or Few Partners

Agree with your partner(s) that both of you will only engage in sex with one another, or that you will alert the other if one of you has sex with someone else so that you both can get tested before further intercourse.

4. Make A Visit To The Clinic Together

Before having sex with a new partner, be sure that both of you get tested.

5. Get Vaccinated

Though chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are low on the list of vaccination priorities, as they are conditions that can be treated with antibiotics, some vaccinations for virus-based STDs (like HPV) are available. Take your health into your own hands and get vaccinated.

Treatments For Those Affected

If you are diagnosed with one of the three STDs on the rise, these treatments are available, as reported by Planned Parenthood

ChlamydiaAntibiotics are prescribed with either one dose or a series of doses across seven days, depending on need. 

GonorrheaDue to gonorrhea’s resistance to antibiotics, doctors may treat patients with both a shot and a pill. Depending on the case, a patient may only need to take one pill, and in other circumstances the patient may need to undergo pill treatments across a week’s span. 

SyphilisPenicillin is the most common medication prescribed for syphilis, but alternatives to penicillin are available for those who are allergic.  

There is currently no explanation for why the exponential increase has occurred. However, rising numbers may be attributed to lacking public health services, practices that coincide with the opioid epidemic and the promotion of casual through social apps.  

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