Guest Blog: Continued Rise in STD Rates Threaten Our Fight Against HIV

By Rob Banaszak on January 16, 2014 in Lady Bloggahs

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By Stephanie S. Arnold Pang
Director of Policy and Communications, National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD)

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the 2012 STD Surveillance report, which is a compilation of statistics and trends for the three reportable sexually transmitted diseases in the United States (chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis). In 2012, STD rates for all three diseases continue to increase, particularly in young people and men who have sex with men (MSM).

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There are many facts in this report which should give great pause to any of us working in the STD and HIV prevention and treatment field. Rates of primary and secondary syphilis rose a dramatic 11.1%. This increase was seen solely among men, particularly MSM. Trend data shows that MSM account for 75% of the primary and secondary syphilis cases. Rates of chlamydia, a disease that is most prevalent in women, rose in men 2012, but not in women.

Gonorrhea rates also rose for the third year in a row, rising 4% in 2012. The rates in men, however, rose over 8%. Every new gonorrhea infection can facilitate the transmission of HIV and can undermine HIV prevention efforts. Increasing gonorrhea rates continue to be deeply troubling due to rising drug resistance in gonorrhea and thanks to our surveillance networks, we know that the highest rates of gonorrhea resistance are in MSM.

This data also show that both the case and rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea continue to be highest in people 24 and younger. Almost 60% of reported cases of gonorrhea occur in this population. A shocking 70% of cases of chlamydia are in young people below the age of 25.

All of this spells trouble for the HIV epidemic. We will never reduce the number of new HIV cases without reducing the number of STD cases, particularly in the populations hardest hit by our STD epidemics: young people, people of color, and MSM. It is not coincidental that these are similar populations disproportionally affected by HIV.

Any STD increases your risk of both acquiring and transmitting HIV. Data also suggest that as many as 40% of MSM with syphilis are also co-infected with HIV. Additionally, research has also found that active STD infections can increase the level of HIV found in the semen of MSM, even if no HIV was found in the blood. This NCSD resource also lays out in more detail the how STD prevention strengthens the approach to HIV prevention.

Those on the front lines of the overlapping STD and HIV epidemics need to continue to prioritize young people, people of color, and MSM, or risk allowing the heavy burdens of these diseases to continue to rise among these populations. All HIV providers should also use the CDC STD screening and treatment guidelines to their advantage and as a tool to keep their patients protected from STDs. All who are providing HIV and STD services need to test for both HIV and other STDs, no matter where their clinics are located.

Rising STD rates greatly threatened our fight against HIV. We can’t afford to work in silos—as it turns out, these diseases do not.

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