Even if you have a handle on HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases just as dangerous are on dramatic rise among gay men – so much that we single handedly spiked infection rates for the first time in nearly a decade.
The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control & Prevention released new numbers on Tuesday that show increases in chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. The stats are taken from 2014 reports, and for the first time since 2006, all three are on the rise from the previous year.
And while young people of both genders are still affected, the major increases can be traced to men who have sex with men, according to the CDC.
“America’s worsening STD epidemic is a clear call for better diagnosis, treatment, and prevention,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention. “STDs affect people in all walks of life, particularly young women and men, but data suggest an increasing burden among gay and bisexual men.”
So if you think you have a handle on your personal HIV prevention – and statistics say you probably don’t – any of the three infections in the new report should also be of paramount concern if you’re gay and sexually active.
Any of them can go unnoticed until out of control, and each of the three can cause permanent disability or even death if untreated. The rise in all three together is new, but syphilis, once thought all but eradicated in the U.S., has been on the rise among gay men since at least 2000. It is known.
And it’s getting worse. The latest report shows that cases of syphilis jumped more than 15 percent from 2013 to 2014, and more than half of those cases were also HIV-positive, according to the CDC.
In 2014, rates of primary and secondary syphilis increased among MSM [Men who have Sex with Men], who account for 83 percent of reported cases among men when the sex of the partner is known.
Also concerning is that more than half of MSM (51 percent) diagnosed with syphilis in 2014 were also HIV-positive. Infection with syphilis can cause sores on the genitals, which make it easier to transmit and acquire HIV.
What may be scariest is that they don’t know exactly why gay and bisexual men are driving the increases in any of the diseases in the report. The CDC calls for further research, and they have a few ideas on where to look.
Gay and bisexual men face a combination of social, epidemiologic, and individual risk factors that can fuel high levels of STDs. Higher prevalence of infection within sexual networks increases the likelihood of acquiring an STD with each sexual encounter.
Additionally, barriers to receiving STD services such as lack of access to quality health care, homophobia, or stigma may all contribute to greater risk for this population. CDC recommends screening at least once a year for syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea for all sexually active MSM.
Add this report to the reasons you might reconsider wearing a condom every time – because again studies show you don't – even if you’re on PrEP and no matter what your friends are doing. It’s just more info ammo for your toolbelt, because friends don’t give friends syphilis. They tend to remember things like that.
Find more information in the full report and in the video below.