The latest CDC STD surveillance report paints a worrying picture of the state of STDs in the United States.
Chlamydia, gonorrhea, primary & secondary syphilis and congenital syphilis are all on the rise.
Overall, STD rates have been rising in most US states for the last several years.
But that’s not all you need to worry about especially if you are sexually active.
There is another group of sexually transmitted infections that are slowly becoming more common – drug-resistant STDs.
At least with the normal bacterial STDs, you can get treatment after a timely diagnosis. A round or two of antibiotics is enough to clear the infection.
Drug-resistant STDs are another matter altogether. They are dangerous because they are almost impossible to treat.
STDs become resistant when the tiny bugs that cause these infections evolve to resist the best drugs we have.
The worst of these stubborn STDs that has researchers worried is drug-resistant gonorrhea.
For several years now, health organizations have been studying the growing threat of drug-resistant gonorrhea.
The CDC says that we are down to one last group of antibiotics, the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium having grown resistant to all the other antibiotics.
Their worst fears were realized when earlier this year, a man in the UK was diagnosed with the infection.
Treatment with the two commonly used antibiotics failed to clear it and they had to use a new antibiotic which, luckily, seemed to work.
But health officials say the gonorrhea-causing bacterium keeps evolving to resist new antibiotics. So things will likely get worse before they get better.
Already, several new types of gonorrhea strains that are drug-resistant have been reported(pdf) in Australia.
Drug resistant Syphilis and Chlamydia
While its gonorrhea that is worrying medical experts the most, syphilis and chlamydia are also showing signs of drug resistance.
This is mostly as a result of late diagnosis and misuse of antibiotics.
In 2016, the World Health Organization had to issue revised treatment guidelines for the two STDs plus gonorrhea because of increased resistance to common antibiotics.
What’s making the situation worse is that STD rates (for the normal non-resistant infections) are rising in the US and many other countries. Over time, this could lead to the increase in drug-resistant infections as well.
With hospitals already struggling to treat the few cases of drug-resistant gonorrhea, it’s scary to imagine what would happen if any of them turned into an epidemic.
How to Protect Yourself
Researchers and governments are in a race to come up with new antibiotics to counter the increasingly stubborn bugs before the infections become widespread.
The best thing you can do is practice the same protective measures that apply to any other sexually transmitted disease.
The most important one is safe sex. A surprising number of people don’t bother using condoms when having sex.
A recent report in the Economist says that people nowadays view sex as a low-risk affair. The biggest danger, an unwanted pregnancy, is almost non-existent. There are so many other ways to prevent pregnancies.
So people are using condoms less and less and it is most likely one of the reasons behind the spate of new STDs in the US.
If you are engaging in casual sex or you have a new partner, a condom is the best way to protect yourself against normal and drug-resistant STDs.
If you are already in a relationship, medical experts say mutual exclusivity is also very effective at preventing the spread of STDs. That means you both agree to have sex only with each other.
In addition to these measures, it is extremely important to get tested frequently. This applies regardless of your situation; whether you are married, dating or single.