BY HALEY LUCIAN '17
Two weeks ago the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their 2015 STD Surveillance Report, which details “statistics and trends for sexually transmitted diseases in the United States through 2015.” The principal diseases tracked by the CDC in this report are chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, all of which reached unprecedented levels of incidence in the 2015 United States population.
It is important to understand that because only the most prevalent and accountable diseases are covered in the report, the overall problem — which would include all STDs — may be even more pronounced. For example, human papilloma virus remains the most common STD in the United States according to the CDC’s Surveillance Report, but it is also “not a nationally reportable condition.” The prevalence of HPV infection is especially alarming, since numerous vaccines are available for both men and women. The current CDC recommendation is to vaccinate both sexes up to 26 years of age to prevent infection and the possible serious complications.
Unfortunately, the rise in STDs comes at a time when social prevention and treatment programs are experiencing budget cuts. The CDC reports that more than half of state and local STD programs have suffered from these reported budget cuts, often leading to clinic closures. STDs predominantly affect people aged 15-24, an age group covering most students here on campus. The CDC explains that this group “[accounts] for half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections” reported every year. They further warn that this number is growing. Another possible factor explaining the rise of cases in young people is a reduction in access to the same level of healthcare as older segments of the population.
Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis can all be treated with a course of antibiotics, but as cases rise and treatment centers close, an increasing number of cases go untreated.
According to the CDC, the consequences of an untreated STD can be devastating to an individual’s long term health. Without proper treatment STDs can lead to chronic pain, but can also progress to more personal long-lasting consequences such as infertility. In the case of HPV, the untreated infection can lead to cancer, often cervical cancer. To further complicate the situation, there is an increasing difficulty in treating some of these STDs, in particular gonorrhea, which over the years has developed increased antibiotic resistance. The CDC now recommends only one treatment for gonorrhea — a dual regimen of two antibiotics. The CDC constantly monitors new, developing examples of antibiotic resistance for STDs. Such resistance makes it all the more important for an individual to seek proper medical care.
Although prevalence of the human immunodeficiency virus is not tracked in the CDC’s Surveillance Report, they emphasize the connection between the more common STDs and HIV infection. The lasting health problems that can be caused by STDs, especially if left untreated, may promote HIV transmission. HIV has serious and permanent health implications, eventually leading to the development of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome if left untreated.
The Mount Holyoke College Health Center offers STD screening and treatment as well as counseling. Note that the health center website refers to STDs as sexually transmitted infections. According to the Health Center, “the most common STIs on college campuses include chlamydia, trichomoniasis, genital herpes and HPV” and in fact the CDC reports chlamydia as the most prevalent of all infections in this year’s report. Regardless of the circumstances, early intervention is important for a favorable long term outcome. The MHC Health Center is just one of the many places that offers treatment and prevention services.