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Expand chart
Data: Centers for Disease Control; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Top public health officials today warned that sexually transmitted diseases continue to rise sharply — hitting a new U.S. record of nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis diagnosed in 2017, per preliminary Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The increase is attributed in part to a lack of federal funding for state public health programs, an increase in drug abuse, and socioeconomic problems.

Threat level: The CDC also says there are worrying indications that the current dual therapy antibiotic regime for gonorrhea could become ineffective if resistance, which has been rising in lab testing and reported in other countries, continues.

"There are challenges on many fronts ... [including] skyrocketing STDs and theoretical antibiotic resistance."
— Gail Bolan, director, CDC Division of STD Prevention

By the numbers, per CDC's preliminary 2017 data compared with 2013:

  • Gonorrhea rose by 67% overall (to 555,608 cases from 333,004), doubling among men and showing a "concerning" increase in women for the third year in a row.
  • Primary and secondary syphilis rose 76% (to 30,644 from 17,374), almost 70% of which are cases among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
  • Chlamydia rose by 21.9% (to 1.7 million from 1,401,906 million) and remains the most common condition. 45% were diagnosed in 15- to 24-year-olds.

Why it matters: These STDs are curable with antibiotics (for now), yet untreated cases are causing severe health problems like infertility, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth in infants and higher risk of HIV infection.

Funding request: Michael Fraser, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health officials, says that one of the primary problems is lack of federal funding for state programs.

"This is primarily due to eroding public health infrastructure," Fraser said at a press briefing.

The National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD), a partnership of public health professionals dedicated to the prevention of STDs, agrees. The group cited a 40% decrease since 2003 in the purchasing power of federal STD funding, and calls for an additional $70 million yearly to be added to the budget.

“It’s not a coincidence STDs are skyrocketing — state and local STD programs are working with effectively half the budget they had in the early 2000s... If our representatives are serious about protecting American lives, they will provide adequate funding to address this crisis. Right now, our STD prevention engine is running on fumes.”
— David Harvey, executive director, NCSD, in a statement

Editor's note: This piece has been updated with further information from the press briefing.

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