California is in the midst of a sexually-transmitted disease (STD) epidemic, and it’s so bad that the number of stillbirths due to syphilis has reached a 20-year high, U.S. News & World Report is reporting.
The Golden State has seen a nearly 45 percent increase in three of the most serious STDs — syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea — since five years ago: 300,000 such cases in 2017. Young women have the highest rates of chlamydia, while men have the highest rates of syphilis and gonorrhea.
The good news is that all three of these once-lethal infections can be easily treated, and even cured, with antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, for reasons that will be discussed in a few paragraphs, people contracting these infections aren’t getting the right treatment soon enough. Left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to infertility and ectopic pregnancy, while syphilis can lead to blindness or even be fatal.
Even worse for California health authorities, untreated syphilis can result in stillbirths. In 2017, there were 30 syphilis-related stillbirths in California, the most since 1995. That’s “shameful,” says Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine at University of California, Los Angeles.
“We’ve known how to control syphilis since early 1900’s. Seeing it come back like this is a sign of failure of the public health safety net.”
The “public health safety net” Klausner refers to has been decimated by budget cuts since the 2008 financial crisis. Public health clinics have been forced to close, and less money is allocated toward sexual education programs in high schools and universities.
Adding to the problem, says Dr. Heidi Bauer, chief of the state health department’s STD Control Branch, is the fact that many Californians have been steered away from getting their health treatment at public clinics, and into private practice via the Affordable Care Act.
Klausner said that sexual health — and money for education about sexual health — isn’t something people like to talk about.
“While there are advocates and champions for cancer, nobody is out there saying, ‘I have gonorrhea and these are the best ways to treat it.’ There’s no one out there being a champion for these conditions.”
Meanwhile, California health authorities are doing just about all they can do, with limited resources, to combat the problem. They’re encouraging Californians to use condoms, and to be open and honest with the health providers about their sexual health.