RICHMOND, Va. — Preliminary numbers from the Virginia Dept. of Health show sexually transmitted disease cases have been on the rise over the past five years.
According to data that’s set to be finalized later this month in a report, the preliminary number of diagnosed cases of chlamydia last year was 43,722. That’s a 29 percent increase from 2013, when 33,808 cases were reported to the health department.
For gonorrhea, the early numbers show 11,971 cases last year, up from 7,101 in the past five years which is a nearly 69 percent hike.
The largest spike was among diagnosed cases of syphilis. The preliminary figures show 1,330 cases, which is nearly doubled compared to the 680 reported in 2013.
“These are numbers that are the highest that we’ve seen in a decade,” Oana Vasiliu, the epidemiology and surveillance manager for STD Surveillance, Operation and Data Administration for the Virginia Dept. of Health, said.
A similar spike is seen nationwide as well. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention‘s report released last year reported 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis diagnosed in 2017.
Vasiliu says these figures are troubling since these diseases are preventable.
“We don’t really have enough data at the state level to pinpoint a cause or multiple causes,” she explained. “But, we do know how STDs are transmitted. It’s generally a decreased use of condoms, lack of testing for people who are sexually active.”
The CDC’s 2018 report notes there is some cause for concern for an antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea being reported abroad. There is currently one main drug treatment for the illness.
These three STDs are also asymptomatic, meaning they don’t show any symptoms even if someone is carrying them. Vasiliu says they “can produce long term health defects on your body that can be pretty devastating.” For example, if syphilis can be identified by sores around genitals and the mouth. If it goes untreated, it can cause problems with your skin, bone, central nervous system, heart and could potentially kill you. There is also the potential for infertility, stillbirths and an increased risk for HIV if these illnesses aren’t treated.
The health department encourages people who are sexually active to get tested once a year.
If you’re looking for a location for reduced or low-cost testing click here to find a local with your local health department.
The health department has also mailed thousands of packets to doctors across the state as part of an educational campaign to encourage more conversations around sexual health and testing. This was started last year, after seeing the increase in STD cases nationwide.
The figures for the number of STD diagnoses in Virginia will be finalized later this month in the department’s annual report.