The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a “troubling rise” in syphilis in men who have sex with men (MSM), as well as disproportionate rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea among young people. The 2012 statistics are included in the CDC’s annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance report, which culls data from state and local STD case reports. Many cases go unreported however, so according to the CDC “the annual surveillance report captures only a fraction of the true burden of STDs in America.”

Nearly 20 million new STD infections occur each year in the United States, the CDC estimates. The cost to the U.S. health care system is nearly $16 billion annually.

The reported cases in 2012, the infection incidence rates per 100,000 and the percent increase of infections since 2011 for each STD were as follows:

  • Gonorrhea: 334,826 cases; 107.5 incidence rate; 4.1 percent increase.
  • Primary and secondary syphilis: 15,667 cases; 5.0 incidence rate; 11.1 percent increase, which was exclusively among men, in particular MSM.
  • Chlamydia: 1,422,976 cases; 456.7 incidence rate; 0.7 percent increase (which essentially means the rate was stable).
Incidence of syphilis among MSM has risen from about 5,500 new cases in 2007 to more than 8,000 in 2012, while the rates for men who have sex with women and for women have remained relatively constant. In fact, 75 percent of the syphilis cases between 2011 and 2012 were among MSM. This is especially troubling because untreated syphilis can fuel the spread of HIV. The CDC reports that data from several major cities indicate that about 40 percent of MSM with syphilis are coinfected with HIV.

Speculating on the cause of this rise in syphilis among MSM, the CDC touches on individual risk factors in the report, such as the number of partners a man has and the practice of unprotected sex. The report also suggests that poorer MSM may have less access to effective health care to identify and treat STDs. Homophobia and stigma, the CDC proposes, are also possible drivers, because MSM may shy away from care and treatment for fear of scorn.

Fifty-eight percent of new gonorrhea infections in 2012 were among young people between the ages of 15 and 24. Sixty-nine percent of new chlamydia infections occurred among this demographic.

An estimated 24,000 American women become infertile yearly as a consequence of undiagnosed and untreated STDs.

To read a CDC fact sheet, click here.

To read the full CDC report, click here.