The U.S. Is far From Free of Sexually Transmitted Disease
Dec. 5, 2000 -- For the most part, rates of sexually
transmitted disease have been declining around the U.S., according to a report
released today. While this news is certainly welcome, the report also indicates
that some areas of the country still have alot of work to do in eliminating the
spread of diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis.
"For the first time in two decades, we're seeing increases
in gonorrhea rates in the United States," says Ronald O. Valdiserri, MD,
MPH. He says that while some of the increases may be due to more aggressive
screening for sexually transmitted diseases and better tests to detect them,
there are very real increases that need to be addressed in certain areas of the
country and in certain groups of people.
The 12 cities with the highest rates in the nation of both
gonorrhea and syphilis are, in alphabetical order: Atlanta; Baltimore; Chicago;
Detroit; Indianapolis; Memphis; New Orleans; Newark, N.J.; Norfolk, Va.;
Richmond, Va.; St. Louis; and Washington.
Gonorrhea and syphilis are two common sexually transmitted
diseases. Symptoms of gonorrhea include discharge from the vagina or penis and
pain or difficulty urinating. Gonorrhea is readily curable with antibiotics if
detected early. Left untreated, it can affect the joints, tendons, the lining
of the heart, and lead to pelvic disease and infertility among women. Syphilis
also is highly curable in most cases, but left untreated, it can lead to
diseases of the heart and brain, as well as cause blindness.
Speaking at a sexually transmitted disease meeting in
Milwaukee, Valdiserri, who is with the CDC, says infection with gonorrhea also
increases the risk of getting HIV by two to five times. He adds that the high
rate of infections in mostly southern states is directly related to poverty and
inadequate access to prevention and treatment.
The CDC, which released the new report, says about 65 million
Americans are currently living with a sexually transmitted disease and millions
more will become infected each year. The majority of these infections occur
among people under age 25.
Researchers say some of the increase of such diseases are in
gay and bisexual men. They believe safe sex is not being as widely practiced as
it was a few years ago, possibly because of less fear of
the consequences of getting infected with HIV, the virus that
In Baltimore, where the rate of syphilis is one of the highest
in the country, the local health department recently began aggressively
fighting the spread of the infection. A spokesperson for the Baltimore City
Health Department tells WebMD the city created a training program for health
professionals to teach them how to diagnose and treat sexually transmitted
diseases. They also have a mobile medical van that goes into communities at
highest risk to address treatment and prevention. The efforts seem to be
working. The new report says Baltimore's rate of syphilis dropped by more than
63% between 1997 and 1999.