Saturday, February 2, 2008

STD's: the gift that keeps on giving


In my years of working as a microbiologist, I spent quite a few of those years doing molecular and other testing for various sexually transmitted diseases (STD's), including chlamydia, gonorrhea, Herpes, and Human Papillomavirus (HPV). We used to joke that I was the STD Queen, although it's nothing I ever put on my resumé! I would have thought that increased awareness of the dangers of unprotected sex would result in a steady decline in the rates of STD's. Sadly, that isn't the case. Check out these statistics.

Chlamydia remains the most commonly reported infectious disease in the United States. In 2006, 1,030,911 cases were reported, up from 976,445 in 2005. Even so, most chlamydia cases go undiagnosed. The national rate of reported chlamydia in 2006 increased 5.6 percent from 2005. The increase could be due to better screening efforts and more sensitive tests, but could also reflect an actual increase in infections.

Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported infectious disease in the United States, with 358,366 cases reported in 2006. Following a 74 percent decline in the rate of reported gonorrhea from 1975 through 1997, overall gonorrhea rates plateaued, then increased for the past two years. In 2006, the gonorrhea rate increased 5.5 percent since 2005, the second consecutive year in which the rate increased. Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is under-diagnosed, and about twice as many new infections are estimated to occur each year as are reported.

The rate of primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis — the most infectious stages of the disease — decreased throughout the 1990s, and in 2000 reached an all-time low. However, over the past six years, the syphilis rate in the United States has been increasing. Between 2005 and 2006, the national P&S syphilis rate increased 13.8 percent, and the number of cases increased from 8,724 to 9,756.

The overall increase in syphilis rates from 2005 to 2006 was due primarily to increases among males, with the rate increasing by 11.8 percent in that group. However, the rate among females increased for the second year in a row, by 11.1 percent, following a decade of declines. Additionally, the rate of congenital syphilis (transmission from mother to newborn) increased slightly in 2006. While it is too early to know if this increase among newborns is a trend, increases in congenital syphilis have historically followed increases among women.

Source: Trends in Reportable Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the United States, 2006: National Surveillance Data for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis,

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) has been shown to be the leading cause of cervical cancer, and with Merck's development and FDA approval of a vaccine, it's our first chance to prevent cancer with a vaccine, a remarkable achievement. A recent study shows that HPV may also be among the leading causes of oral cancer in men, causing as many cancers as smoking and alcohol use. While further study is needed, Merck plans to ask for government permission to offer the vaccine to boys as well as girls and young women. This would aid in stopping the transmission of the virus to women, but this new study shows that it may also provide significant health benefits to males. While it's a personal choice, I encourage everyone to have their kids vaccinated. It does not in any way condone sexual activity at a young age, but it certainly could protect them as young adults.

While the vaccine is certainly encouraging, we're forgetting an important point here. Why, after the dangers of unprotected sex have been so widely publicized, are our rates still going up? Have we learned nothing? A key word in the CDC's statistics is "undiagnosed." That means there are a significant number of people out there sharing DNA that have no idea they have an infection. Doesn't anyone find that scary any more? And while things like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis can be cured with antibiotics, things like Herpes and HIV stay with you forever. It should be a sobering thought, and prevent the spread of these infections, but that's not what is happening.

This may seem like a bit of a delicate subject, but I'm speaking as a healthcare worker concerned about what I continue to see, year after year. We see kids in junior high coming up positive for these infections, and every time we see that, we say, "Awww, man!" While there are a host of social and personality issues that come into play in cases like that, my primary focus is to see people of all ages prevent the transmission of these preventable infections.

Just be careful out there, okay?


queeniemart said...

i have a close close friend who has a sister who is a piece of crap mom. Her daughter, now 18, had gonorrhea at 11. Yes, 11. The daughter was picking up grown men at gas stations after IMing with them online. This same friend has a son who has had reaccuring bouts of gonorrhea for the entire year he has been sexually active with his girlfriend. Though i am NO expert, i tell my friend that the GF must be cheating and causing him to get gonorrhea over and over. He goes to the local health dept for free and gets checked and then gets medicated. His GF, also gets checked and medicated and here it comes again. SHe has been known to climb out the back bedroom window and have oral sex with men for a hit of crack. SIGH.   I get to listen to this awful continuing story weekly and they all seem to not think it is a big deal! My daughter had LOTS of "good girl" friends in HS who ended up with herpes and she'd come home and tell me, horrified. I tried to explain to her and HER friends that this was not GOOD..but these teens all think they are infallible.

hugs, lj

luvrte66 said...

That's just so sad, Lisa.


deshelestraci said...

I think that you are right about getting the stats out to the public.  I think we will agree to disagree about vaccines.  I think that the cdc and the docs are whacked to think we should inject people with mercury.  I think that metal toxicity is a bigger problem than we know.  Just my opinion.

luvrte66 said...

I see what you're saying, Traci, and that's definitely a personal decision. However, the toll of infectious diseases is huge, and I've seen outbreaks of pertussis and other preventable diseases. But that's a decision that everyone has to make for themselves and their children, except for those vaccinations required for school (which I realize you don't deal with).


deshelestraci said...

My kids are actually current on all vaccines.  I've just come to this way of thinking recently.  I'm not against vaccines, I'm against the crap that is put in them that isn't good for humans.  And I realize that not all people have a problem with this stuff in their systems.  I'm done taking chances though.

mpnaz58 said...

My sister used to work with the county family planning clinic, and she was APPALLED at the number of women who came in with STD's, and it was usually the same women over and over again!  The stories they would tell of how they got the virus ranged from the outragous to the sad.  Many of these women were undocumented, uneducated, and were at the mercy of their husband, boyfriend, SO.  The thing was, these women were afraid to tell the man who was giving it to them in the first place, so he was not being treated for the virus...only spreading it around.  For many of these men (latin culture) it is ok to have as many women as you can/want.  Its really sad.  My sister now works in pediatrics as she couldn't take it anymore.  However, she now sees the KIDS of these women!  
xoxo ~Myra

luvrte66 said...

I can assure you, Myra, that these infections know no racial or social boundaries. They're definitely equal opportunity offenders!


rdautumnsage said...

Thank you for making a point to, up the awareness of these diseases....Sad to say among the younger generation, they have an invincible psychology thinking (It won't happen to them) and it does....Add in the amount of husband and wives who lack morals and sleep around...There are far too many reasons for the increase and it comes down to lack of common sense. I think the awareness is's more a laziness to take the few extra seconds-minutes to protect themselves.

All too late they find themselves one of the statistics. It's really sad....almost as if awareness doesn't define the risk enough. (Hugs) Indigo

luvrte66 said...

Sad but true, Indigo. The whole invincibility factor....