California has seen a record rise in cases of sexually
transmitted diseases and a spike in the number of stillbirths
caused by syphilis. It marks the third year in a row that the
state has seen a rise in the spread of STDs.
More than 300,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and early
syphilis were counted in 2017, according to the latest report by
the California Department of Public Health. Health officials
said the upsurge constitutes a 45 percent increase compared to
five years ago.
But what is "particularly concerning" to the department is that
the number of stillbirths due to congenital syphilis increased
to 30 — the highest number reported since 1995. And the overall
cases of California babies born with the disease — passed
through the placenta from their mothers — has more than
quadrupled since 2013 to 278 last year. It can cause severe
neurological problems, deformities or blindness, among other
Chlamydia is by far the most widespread of the three diseases,
especially among young women under 30. Men account for the
majority of syphilis and gonorrhea cases. If left untreated, the
health department noted, chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause
pelvic inflammatory disease and can lead to infertility, ectopic
pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain.
"STDs are preventable by consistently using condoms, and many
STDs can be cured with antibiotics," CDPH Director and State
Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith said in a statement.
"Regular testing and treatment are very important for people who
are sexually active, even for people who have no symptoms. Most
people infected with an STD do not know it."
Dr. Heidi Bauer, chief of the state health department's STD
Control Branch told NPR the rise in STDs can be blamed on a
multitude of factors that vary by demographic. For instance, the
rise in gonorrhea and syphilis among gay and bisexual men can be
partially due to the efficacy of HIV/AIDS treatments. "Because
of that there is less concern about the transmission of HIV and
using condoms," she said.
Rural populations have suffered greatly from the closure of
smaller health clinics, closed as a result of statewide budget
cuts during the recession. Bauer said, people with limited
access to care "have had to scramble," traveling long distances
to receive medical attention or testing. And in some, not every
provider stocks the medications to treat STD cases, she said.
The ubiquity of "hookup" apps is another contributing factor.
"The internet and smart phones have made it very, very easy to
create social and sexual connections between people," Bauer
said, adding that short-lived relationships, during which many
people don't bother to exchange meaningful contact information,
makes it challenging to notify previous sexual partners of
The data out of California are consistent with the most recent
nationwide numbers available from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, which logged more sexually transmitted
diseases than ever in 2016. More than two million cases of
chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were diagnosed in the United
States that year and early reports indicate 2017 may be another
record setting year.
Alaska, Louisiana and Mississippi had the most chlamydia cases
per capita, while Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia ranked
highest for gonorrhea. The District of Columbia, Louisiana and
New York scored ignominious recognition for cases of syphilis.
In California, the health department is collaborating with the
state department of education and community groups to ensure
schools provide comprehensive STD/HIV prevention education, as
is required by the 2016 California Healthy Youth Act.