STD Rise Hitting Teens And Young Adults Hardest

Sep 27, 2017

The number of people diagnosed with sexually-transmitted diseases in Rhode Island and across the country is at an all-time high, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Rhode Island, reported cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea during the last four years (2013-2016) have climbed 14 percent and 58 percent, respectively. And cases of syphilis -- while far fewer -- have more than doubled.

Young adults and teenagers are among the hardest hit.

“The first significant bump in cases that we see is among 15 and 19-year-olds,’’ said Dr.  Philip Chan, an infectious disease specialist and director of the STD clinic at The Miriam Hospital.

More than 4,900 of cases of chlamydia -- the most prevalent STD -- were reported in Rhode Island in 2016, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health.  

Chlamydia is more often diagnosed in women than men. If untreated, chlamydia can cause infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and chronic pelvic pain.

The reason for the increase, health officials said, is not known for certain. Some health experts say it may be due to more people engaging in risky sexual behavior, perhaps due to online hookups, and a decline in the use of condoms.

STD swab
Credit Lynn Arditi / RIPR

Reported syphilis cases in Rhode Island rose 128 percent during the last four years (2013-2016). The state reported 153 syphilis cases in 2016 -- the 12th highest rate in the country, according to the CDC. Most syphilis cases occur in men, especially those who have sex with other men.

The increase in STDs comes as access to care has expanded under the Affordable Care Act.

“We did see some spikes in cases after the Affordable Care Act passed,’’ Chan said. “And we actually think that’s because people had increased access to care and were testing more.”

Meanwhile, funding for treatment and prevention of STDs in Rhode Island and other states has declined.

During the last five years, CDC funding for STD data gathering, prevention and control efforts in Rhode Island has declined about 15 percent, according to Joseph Wendelken, a state health department spokesman. Rhode Island is expected to receive about $316,600 for fiscal 2018, compared with almost $372,000 in fiscal 2014.

The CDC recommends annual chlamydia and gonorrhea screening for all sexually active women under age 25, as well as older women with risk factors such as multiple sex partners.