Rising STD numbers


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: rising STD rates. 

A quick note before we get started. We’re going to be talking about sexually transmitted diseases and if you have young ones around, this may be the time to hit pause and come back later.

This story has some themes that may not be suitable.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a preliminary report that found skyrocketing rates of common STDs. Now they’re often referred to as STIs, the I for “infection.” Nevertheless, the 2017 government numbers marked the fourth consecutive year of rising rates.

WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has the story.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Last year, rates of syphilis grew by 76 percent, gonorrhea by 67 percent, and chlamydia by 21 percent. These record hikes prompted David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, or NCSD, to ask President Trump to declare STDs a public health crisis.

Here’s Matthew Prior, David Harvey’s spokesman.

PRIOR: We at NCSD consider the primary force driving this is the lack of federal investment in STD prevention programs around the country.

The NCSD says federal funding for STD prevention, education, and medical care has seen a 40 percent decrease in purchasing power since 2003. The group is calling for an additional $70 million in annual federal funds to respond to the growing crisis.

PRIOR: So around the country we’ve seen about 40 percent of STD programs reporting that they’ve had to either cut staff, reduce clinic hours, or close STD clinics altogether, so there’s a reduced workforce, reduced access points for people to get high-quality STD care.

George Walton is an NCSD board member and the STD program manager at the Iowa Department of Public Health. He says most states depend almost completely on the federal government to fund their STD public health programs.

WALTON: So for example, here in Iowa it’s all less than 10 percent of our, some of our funds come from the states and the remaining comes from federal resources. There certainly are states that get no support from the state government for STD prevention efforts.

But there’s more behind the rise than just a lack of funding. Some health officials point to the country’s opioid crisis as a contributing factor. A CDC study found 15- to 24-year-olds who reported injecting drugs in the past year were more likely to be diagnosed with chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea.

George Walton says Americans also have an idea that STDs are a thing of the past, so more people are having extramarital sex without protection. Unprotected sex is especially increasing among gay and bisexual men, who made up 70 percent of the syphilis cases reported in 2017.

WALTON: So that’s an an infection that has disproportionately impacted gay men.

Although antibiotic treatments are available for STD’s, some diseases are asymptomatic. George Walton says that means unless a person gets tested they won’t know they have a problem.

WALTON: If people go untreated some of the health consequences that can occur are chronic pelvic pain, for example, in women, and can also lead to infertility in the future. So even though somebody may not be ready to conceive a child now, if that’s something they would like to do in five or 10 or 15 years, the damage caused from an untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea infection could make that very difficult or even impossible.

Having an STD also greatly increases the risk of acquiring HIV.

Juli Slattery is the president of Authentic Intimacy and has written several books on Biblical sexuality. She says the rise in STDs is just one symptom of the culture’s embrace of a faulty sexual worldview.

SLATTERY: God created sexuality to teach us about covenant. And the reason that the Bible has rules against having sex outside of marriage is because sex is meant to be a way of celebrating and cementing a covenant promise.

Slattery says the church needs to lead in modeling Biblical sexuality. It also needs to be a place where people can find help if they are dealing with the consequences of an STD.  

SLATTERY: I think it helps to know that you are not alone in this. Satan comes in and he will tell you lies like yeah this STD is a reminder of how you can never be clean again, you can never tell anyone this or they won’t love you. Those are all lies. We all are carrying scars, but that’s why we believe in a God that’s a redeeming God.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.


(Daniel Mayer/Creative Commons) The entrance to the CDC in Atlanta.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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