The scientific community was shocked to learn that there were more than two million cases of these three STDs.
These sexually transmitted diseases are bacterial and are curable through antibiotic treatments. However, the problem stems from the fact that many of those infected don’t have any visible symptoms of the disease. Without the warning signs, they may unintentionally infect their partner.
The CDC said the state of Washington ranks 15th for syphilis, 27th for gonorrhea and 36th for chlamydia.
Christina Marra, a UW professor of neurology and medicine, investigates syphilis. She said the challenge in stopping its spread is recognizing that a person has the disease. Marra said there are three stages of syphilis – latent, primary and secondary. In primary syphilis, a person will experience a sore at the site – inside places a person can’t see, their mouth, throat or vagina, she said.
Marra said since people don’t see these sores, they won’t get tested and treated. If primary syphilis isn’t treated and the person is re-infected, they can suffer from secondary syphilis. This leads to rashes and other symptoms.
She said Chlamydia is also one of those silent STDs with no notable symptoms, but it can cause infertility in women if not treated.
Nurse Angela Ramirez Wood said chlamydia is one of the most common STDs on university campuses. She said, at their campus, they see a lot of chlamydia cases in women during routine pap smear or wellness checkups even if they have no outward symptoms. She said eight in 10 men have gonorrhea with no symptoms.
Wood said the number of cases in King County is rising, but no notable increases are seen in UW students.
While the lack of symptoms is one of the reasons for the rise in STD number, it’s not the only reason for the upward motion.
UW Epidemiologist Roxanne Kerani said there are a lot of things going on, and it’s difficult to pinpoint one exact reason for the rise.
Marra said there are several theories as to why the numbers are rising.
She said HIV scared a lot of people into protecting themselves, which reduced the number of STD cases. However, with HIV treatments available, people stopped being scared and started having risky sex again.
Kerani said it might be economic and social factors contributing to the trend. She said the opioid epidemic could be a reason as well. People are exchanging their bodies for sex or money to feed the addiction. She said with more people homeless; people are doing whatever they can find a place to stay.
They also said Seattle has been growing rapidly, which means some people moving in may already have STDs.
Kerani said both syphilis and gonorrhea cases have risen significantly the last couple of years. While many of the cases are men with men, heterosexuals are also being diagnosed with these STDs.
Doctors have recommended that any sexually-active person be tested for STDs even if they don’t have any symptoms. People can get tested at their doctor’s office or a local clinic. UW students can be tested as the Hall Health Center.
With the staggering number of cases on the rise, it would better to take precautions now than be sorry later.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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