The rate of gonorrhea in the United States is at an all-time low, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday, but the rates for chlamydia and syphilis continue to rise. The three sexually transmitted diseases, orSTDs, together account for about 1.5 million cases annually, less than 10% of the country's estimated 19 million cases. But they are the only ones that must be reported to CDC by doctors because they have such potentially serious consequences.
Herpes and human papillomavirus account for the bulk of the remaining STD infections.
All three are bacterial diseases that can be readily treated with antibiotics. Left untreated, however, they can have serious consequences. Gonorrhea and chlamydia can produce pelvic inflammatory disease in women, which can cause infertility. Each year, about 24,000 U.S. women become infertile as a result. Syphilis can cause brain, cardiovascular and organ damage. In pregnant women, it can cause congenital syphilis, which can cause stillbirth, death soon after birth and physical deformities and neurological complications in children who survive. Untreated, it causes infant death in as many as 40% of infants. Lack of treatment of the infections also appears to increase the risk of contracting HIV.
According to the new CDC report, gonorrhea cases declined 74% from 1974 to 1996 before plateauing for 10 years, then decreasing for another three. In 2009, a total of 301,174 cases were reported, with the highest rate in the South. Rates were similar in men and women, but slightly higher in women, and highest among those ages 15 to 24. In men, they were highest among those ages 20 to 24. The rate in black men was 26 times that in white men, while the rate in black women was 17 times that in white women.