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Cases Of STDs At An All-Time High Nationally, And Rising In Allegheny County

Dr. E. Arum, Dr. N. Jacobs
CDC via AP
This 1975 microscope image made available by the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria magnified 200X.

The national rate of sexually transmitted diseases is at an all-time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 2016 statistics from Allegheny County reveal a similar trend.

Chlamydia was the most commonly diagnosed STD last year nationally and locally, with 1.6 million cases nationwide and more than 6,000 in the county. Allegheny County's numbers represent a 2.9 percent rise from 2015.

And Allegheny County saw 470,000 diagnosed gonorrhea cases, with more than 2,000 cases in the Pittsburgh area, a jump of almost 4 percent.

Cases of syphilis are the rarest of the three, with 28,000 cases nationwide and 87 cases locally, but Allegheny County's numbers reflected a 28 percent jump between 2014 and 2016.

Harold Wiesenfeld, medical director of the Allegheny County Health Department and OBGYN at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, says STDs are still a taboo topic for many people, which may prevent them from getting the education and testing they need.

"And so in order to really make a dent and make an impact with messaging and risk reduction behaviors, we have to try to destigmatize the whole topic of sexually transmitted diseases," Wiesenfeld said.

According to the CDC, the STD "epidemic" is rising the fastest for women, infants and gay and bisexual men. Syphilis rates for women increased 36 percent, causing a 28 percent increase in syphilis among newborns (congenital syphilis), which is contracted through the mother.

According to a CDC press release, congenital syphilis resulted in more than 40 newborn deaths nationwide, as well as serious health complications. The organization says transferring the disease is preventable with timely treatment to the infected pregnant woman.

More than half of national syphilis cases are from men who have sex with men. The CDC reports half of these men are also living with HIV, and Wiesenfeld said he sees this reflected in young, gay and bisexual black men.

"The intersection between STDs and HIV acquisition makes STD public health efforts so critically important," he said.

Wiesenfeld says one reason for the jump in cases could possibly be due to more people getting tested for STDs. However, he believes cases will continue to climb.

"We are concerned, and we are thinking that this year we'll still have a number of cases, and we believe that the overall STD epidemic is still ongoing in Allegheny County and the United States," he said. 

Story was updated October 2 at 2:39 p.m. to reflect Harold Wiesenfeld's affiliation with UPMC.