U.S. Sets Record in Sexual Disease Cases

More than 1 million cases of chlamydia were reported in the United States last year -- the most ever reported for a sexually transmitted disease, federal health officials said Tuesday.

BY Matthew Van Atta

November 14 2007 12:00 AM ET

More than 1
million cases of chlamydia were reported in the United
States last year -- the most ever reported for a
sexually transmitted disease, federal health officials
said Tuesday.

''A new U.S.
record,'' said John Douglas Jr. of the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention.

More bad news:
Gonorrhea rates are jumping again after hitting a record
low, and an increasing number of cases are caused by a
''superbug'' version resistant to common antibiotics,
federal officials said Tuesday.

Syphilis is
rising, too. The rate of congenital syphilis -- which can
deform or kill babies -- rose for the first time in 15
years.

''Hopefully we
will not see this turn into a trend,'' said Khalil Ghanem,
an infectious diseases specialist at Johns Hopkins
University's School of medicine.

The CDC releases
a report each year on chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis,
three diseases caused by sexually transmitted bacteria.
Chlamydia is the most common. Nearly 1,031,000 cases
were reported last year, up from 976,000 the year
before.

The count broke
the single-year record for reported cases of a sexually
transmitted disease, which was 1,013,436 cases of gonorrhea,
set in 1978. Putting those numbers into rates, there
were about 349 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people
in 2006, up 5.6% from the 329 per 100,000 rate in
2005.

CDC officials say
the chlamydia record may not be all bad news: They
think the higher number is largely a result of better and
more intensive screening. Since 1993, the CDC has
recommended annual screening in sexually active women
ages 15 to 25. Meanwhile, urine and swab tests for the
bacteria are getting better and are used more often, for men
as well as women, said Douglas, director of the CDC's
Division of Sexually Transmitted Disease Prevention.
Health officials believe as many as 2.8 million new
cases may actually be occurring each year, he added.

About three
quarters of women infected with chlamydia have no symptoms.
Left untreated, the infection can spread and ultimately can
lead to infertility. It's easily treated if caught
early.

Chlamydia
infection rates are more than seven times higher in black
women then whites, and more than twice as high in
black women than Hispanics. But it's a risk women of
all races should consider, CDC officials said.

''If (health
care) providers think young women in their practice don't
have chlamydia, they should think again,'' said Dr. Stuart
Berman, a CDC epidemiologist.

The gonorrhea
story is somewhat different.

In 2004, the
nation's gonorrhea rate fell to 112.4 cases per 100,000
people in 2004, the lowest level since the government
started tracking cases in 1941.

But since then,
health officials have seen two consecutive years of
increases. The 2006 rate -- about 121 per 100,000 --
represents a 5.5% increase from 2005.

Health officials
don't know exactly how many superbug cases there were
among the more than 358,000 gonorrhea cases reported in
2006. But a surveillance project of 28 cities found
that 14% were resistant to ciprofloxacin and other
medicines in the fluoroquinolones class of
antibiotics.

Similar samples
found that 9% were resistant to those antibiotics in
2005, and 7% were resistant in 2004. The appearance of the
superbug has been previously reported, and the CDC is
April advised doctors to stop using those drugs
against gonorrhea.

Douglas said it
doesn't look like the superbugs are the reason for
gonorrhea's escalating numbers overall, but they're not sure
what is driving the increase.

Other doctors are
worried. The superbug gonorrhea has been on the rise
not only in California and Hawaii, where the problem has
been most noticeable, but also in the South and parts
of the Midwest.

''Suddenly we're
starting to see the spread,'' Ghanem said.

Syphilis, a
potentially deadly disease that first shows up as genital
sores, has become relatively rare in the United States.
About 9,800 cases of the most contagious forms or
syphilis were reported in 2006, up from about 8,700 in
2005.

The rate rose
from 2.9 cases per 100,000 people to 3.3, a 14% increase.

For congenital
syphilis, in which babies get syphilis from their mothers,
the rate rose only slightly from the previous year to 8.5
cases per 100,000 live births. (AP)

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