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STDs in the United States – Get the Facts


If you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex, then you can get a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Knowledge and prevention about these infections are important safety measures. Many STIs are never detected since there are often no symptoms. 

According to the CDC, approximately one in five people in the U.S. had an STI in 2018. Chlamydia, trichomoniasis, genital herpes, and HPV accounted for 98% of all prevalent STIs. Furthermore, almost half of new STIs were among youth aged 15-24.

Since 2014, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis have all greatly increased. In fact, the combined cases of these three STIs reached a total higher than ever before in 2018. This is the fifth consecutive year we’ve seen a rise in STD rates, making STDs a significant health challenge.

CDC reports show increases in syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, and some of the rises were very large. Cases of primary and secondary syphilis rose nearly 15% to reach the highest number of reported cases since 1991. Syphilis cases among newborns saw a staggering 40% increase, and deaths related to congenital syphilis (passed from the mother to the child during pregnancy) increased 22% from 2017. Gonorrhea rates increased 5%, reaching the highest number reported since 1991, and chlamydia saw a 3% increase, with a total number of cases reaching higher than ever before. Additionally, the CDC says that many cases of these STDs and others, like herpes simplex disease and human papillomavirus, go undetected and unreported, meaning the actual rates could be far higher.

STI vs. STD: What Is the Difference?

Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are infections that have not yet developed into diseases, and can include bacteria, viruses, or parasites. They are usually transmitted during sexual activities through an exchange of bodily fluids or skin-to-skin contact. Nonsexual activities in which bodily fluids are exchanged can also transmit STIs. For instance, people who share needles can get HIV.

On the other hand, sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, result from STIs and are a more serious issue. All STDs start out as infections. 

Why Are STD Rates Rising?

Many different factors are coming together to push STD rates upwards, according to the CDC. These include a reduction in condom use among vulnerable groups including gay and bisexual men and young people; cuts to state and local STD programs that have resulted in closed health clinics and reductions in STD screening, staff, patient follow-up, and connecting patients with care services; as well as poverty, stigma, drug use, and unstable housing, all of which can reduce access to STD care and prevention services.

Can STDs Be Treated?

Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis can all be treated and cured with antibiotics. However, when left untreated, these diseases can contribute to vast problems including increased HIV risk, infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and transmission of the disease to others. Syphilis can also be transmitted to a baby during pregnancy and can contribute to complications like stillbirth, miscarriage, newborn death, and health problems throughout the baby’s lifespan.

Hardest Hit Populations

CDC studies reveal that young people and women face some of the biggest impacts and most significant consequences of STIs. Also, among racial/ethnic minority groups and people who are LGBTQ. 

What is Being Done to Slow These Rising STD Rates?

A number of public health efforts are in place to deal with our nation’s high STD rates. The CDC is providing STD prevention and monitoring resources to local and state health departments, funding health departments to strengthen STD prevention and control initiatives, and supporting health departments by training health care providers, helping investigate and respond to outbreaks, and helping with community engagement.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services responded to the STD epidemic by developing on an action plan—in short called the STI Plan. The government is also advising healthcare providers to include STD screening and timely treatment of STDs as a standard component of care, and encouraging health departments to make sure STD-prevention resources are directed toward vulnerable populations.

How to Reduce Your Risk of STD Transmission

  • Abstinence
  • Get the hepatitis B and HPV vaccines
  • Have fewer sex partners
  • Engage in mutual monogamy
  • Talk openly about STDs
  • Get tested regularly
  • Use condoms

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If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Women’s Health Arizona. As Arizona’s largest ObGyn group, we’re trained and solely dedicated to delivering the best ObGyn experience in convenient and comfortable settings around Phoenix.

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