According to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control, the rates of chlamydia and syphilis continue to rise and disproportionately affect several minority populations, including gay men.
The CDC’s “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2007” reported about 1.1-million cases of chlamydia in 2007 — up about 7.5 percent from the previous year — the highest number of cases of any disease ever reported to the CDC.
The CDC attributed the increase in part to better reporting techniques, but Dr. Hillard Weinstock, of the agency’s Division on STD Prevention, said the actual number of chlamydia cases in the country could be closer to 2.8 million.
“What we have now is a vast underestimate,” Weinstock said. “This is just a part of what is actually out there because there’s such a difficulty in detecting this disease.”
The report found that the number of gonorrhea cases decreased slightly, by about .7 percent, in 2007 to about 356,000.
Women contract chlamydia at a rate of about three times that of men and this disease, as well as gonorrhea, when untreated, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which causes about 50,000 women to become infertile every year.
Weinstock said that African Americans, while comprising about 12 percent of the entire U.S. population, accounted for 48 percent of all reported chlamydia cases and 46 percent of all reported gonorrhea cases in 2007. The report also found that both diseases impact black women ages 15-19 at a higher rate than any other demographic.
“We’ve seen this disparity for some time and I think it’s multi-factorial,” he said. “But the first step has to be awareness in this community that this is a severe health problem with severe health consequences. The African-American community and all of our communities need a better understanding and awareness of the situation.”
The report also found that the number of new syphilis cases increased for the seventh consecutive year.
The rate of syphilis infection in the country had been steadily decreasing in the 1990s, and in 2000 hit its lowest point since 1941. Beginning in 2001, however, the numbers began to rebound, with men who have sex with men (MSM) contracting the disease at a much higher rate than any other population.
The total number of reported primary- and secondary-syphilis cases increased 17.5 percent between 2006 and 2007, from 9,756 to 11,466. The report found that males contracted the disease at a rate six times that of females, a slight increase from the previous year.
About 65 percent of those infected contracted the disease through male-male sex. About 40.8 percent of this demographic was white, 33.2 percent was black, 19.3 percent Hispanic and 6.7 percent identified as other ethnicities.
The rate of infection increased in most age groups but the disease was most prevalent in the 25-29-year-old bracket.
Weinstock said that MSM who contract syphilis have a higher risk of also contracting HIV.
“I think it’s important that sexually active gay and bisexual men be tested annually for both syphilis and HIV and other STD infections,” Weinstock said. “They need to be aware and suspicious of any unusual sores in the mouth, rectum or penis and need to go to a physician or clinician to get checked.”
Weinstock noted that physicians, especially those who work with a lot of gay and bisexual male patients, also bear responsibility for communicating the threat of syphilis to their patients.
Dr. John Douglas, director of the CDC’s Division on STD Prevention, noted that the key to stemming the tide of all diseases lies in increased awareness, particularly among the hardest-hit communities.
“These diseases can be treated, and we need to have better awareness about how extensive these infections are and what the prevention opportunities are,” he said.
To view the full report, visit www.cdc.gov/std/stats.
Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected]