House Call: People are 'less scared' about HIV, leading to high STD numbers

Americans are contracting sexually transmitted diseases at an alarming rate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the numbers Tuesday. Highlights include the following:

- More than 1.7 million cases of chlamydia were reported last year. The infection rate rose 3 percent from 2017.
- About 580,000 gonorrhea cases were reported. That’s the highest number since 1991. The rate rose 5 percent. Scientists worry antibiotic resistance may be a factor.
- And the syphilis rate rose 15 percent. About 35,000 cases of the most contagious forms of the disease were reported — also the most since 1991.
- Cases of congenital syphilis - or syphilis that’s spread from mother to baby during pregnancy - increased 40 percent to more than 1,300 cases.

Dr. Seth Sullivan is an infectious disease specialist at Baylor Scott & White Health and the alternate health authority for the Brazos County Health District. He says that the numbers locally match the rising national statistics.

So…why?

“'Why?' is a great question,” said Dr. Sullivan on First News at Four. “There is less condom use, and with that comes a more cavalier approach and less fear about sexually transmitted infections in general.”

Dr. Sullivan attributes part of the decline in condom use to the increased resources surrounding HIV/AIDS.

“The HIV epidemic looks much different today than it did 20 years ago—much more treatable will one pill a day,” Dr. Sullivan said. “Because [people are] less scared of HIV they're less scared of these other treatable things.”

And that’s the thing: chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea are indeed treatable with antibiotics. However, Dr. Sullivan stresses that the infections can be asymptomatic, meaning you may not know you are sick while the disease is ravaging your reproductive system in an irreversible way.

“Over time, the inflammatory process that continues can lead to scarring, and it's that scarring that can be a permanent problem [for both men and women],” said Dr. Sullivan.

However, the solution is simple, according to Dr. Sullivan: if you are sexually active, use a condom and get screened for STDs every three months.

For the full conversation with Dr. Sullivan, see the video player above. For information on affordable STD screenings at the Brazos County Health District, see the Related Links.