UC Berkeley STD rates rise with national trends

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This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, released its 2018 report on STDs, highlighting the heightened spread of infections in recent years.

In particular, rates of four STDs have been on the rise. In 2018, 1.8 million cases of chlamydia were reported. This was an increase of 19% from 2014, and the most ever reported to the CDC. Similarly, 580,000 cases of gonorrhea were reported — a 63% increase from 2014 and the highest rate reported since 1991. In addition, the number of reported cases of primary and secondary syphilis and congenital syphilis are growing. University Health Services spokesperson Tami Cate said the Tang Center has seen an uptick in the number of STD cases consistent with national trends.

According to the CDC, half of all new STD cases each year are estimated to be contracted by young people between the ages of 15 and 24. 

Virginia Bowen, an epidemiologist at the CDC, said social, cultural and economic factors may contribute to increases in reported STD cases.

“Young people may experience multiple barriers to accessing quality STD prevention and care services, including an inability to pay for services, lack of transportation, or conflict between clinic hours and school and work schedules,” Bowen said in an email. “Young people also may have concerns about confidentiality or may be embarrassed to seek STD services or provide specimens for testing.”

On a national level, Bowen listed factors such as poverty, unstable housing, drug use, lack of medical insurance, a high burden of STDs in particular communities and decreases in condom use as possible reasons for this resurgence in STDs across the nation

Additionally, both local and state-level cuts to STD programs have resulted in clinic closures, reduced screenings, staff losses and reduced patient follow-ups and linkage to care and other services, according to Bowen.

“It’s very concerning,” said John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. “Without a vigorous public health intervention, all we are going to do is see STI increases, except for those which we can control with vaccines.”

Swartzberg added that underfunded public health departments and a decline in individuals taking preventative measures are factors that could lead to increased numbers of cases.

Steps such as wearing a condom and getting regularly tested are good preventative measures, according to Cate. The Tang Center offers several services for students, such as STI screenings, preventative education and information, STI and HIV testings, HPV and Hepatitis B vaccines, as well as low-cost contraceptives.

“Although STDs can cause severe consequences, such as infertility, all STDs are treatable, most are curable, and all are preventable,” Bowen said in the email. “Individuals can talk openly and honestly with their partners about sex and STDs to identify strategies that work for them to protect their sexual health.”

Contact Kaleo Mark at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @kaleomark_dc.