What's Behind The Jump In STD Rates

Oct 8, 2017
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

OK. Let's talk about something that no one likes to talk about - STDs, sexually transmitted diseases. The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are startling. Rates of gonorrhea and syphilis are up, way up by double digits. So what's going on? To find out, I'm joined by David Harvey. He's director of the National Coalition for STD Directors, which works with state and local health officials. Welcome to the program.

DAVID HARVEY: Thank you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Cases of gonorrhea have increased 18.5 percent between 2015 and 2016. Cases of syphilis have gone up almost 17.6 percent over that same period. Can you tell me what's going on?

HARVEY: These are shocking statistics. We have the highest STD rates of any Western industrialized country in the world. And what's driving these numbers is several factors. One is a cutback in federal and state STD prevention and care dollars, and people are not getting screened and tested. And that's due to two things. One, people may not know they have a STD because they don't have any symptoms. And doctors are not doing assessments of their patients, asking about sexual histories and then taking actions to do screening.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Who is getting infected?

HARVEY: Well, we are seeing numbers increase across the board in all populations in America. But like so many issues, though, there are disproportionately impacted communities. So the Southern states have seen an explosion in STD rates. Black and Latino women and young people and men disproportionately bear a higher burden of STDs. Men who have sex with men - the gay community - there is a raging syphilis and gonorrhea epidemic. So there are disproportionate communities impacted, but we're seeing as a bottom line numbers increase across the board.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: These are serious diseases, specifically syphilis. But they are treatable, right? What are the long-term health risks if you do not get treated and if you do not actually take this seriously?

HARVEY: What a clinician would tell you is that for women, the implications are serious - potential infertility, cervical cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease. These conditions - these diseases also facilitate HIV transmission. So there's a huge intersection between STDs and HIV.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to talk a little bit about Planned Parenthood. We've obviously seen attempts to cut off funding for them - reduce their funding. Is that having an impact?

HARVEY: Well, family planning dollars, some of which go to Planned Parenthood organizations, are a critical funding source for STD screening and treatment services, particularly for women but also for men. But in addition to family planning and Planned Parenthood, there are STD clinics that are run by a lot of public health departments across the country. But because of reduced dollars both at the federal state and local level, many of these clinics have had to close their doors. STD clinics are critically important because of the shame and stigma associated with STDs. It's very hard for people to come forward and talk about these issues.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so they don't want to tell their general practitioners, their regular family doctor about this potentially.

HARVEY: We still have a lot of hang-ups in America about sex, about talking openly and honestly about sex and sexually healthy lives. We have to do more to be able to talk openly and directly and honestly about this and then help people get access to the education and the services that they need.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: David Harvey heads the National Coalition for STD Directors. Thanks for being with us, David.

HARVEY: Thank you very much, Lulu.

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