Invisible STDs

Sacramento County once again ranks high for reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis

You have chlamydia.

These are the words that 218,710 Californians heard in 2017, according to a report from the state’s Public Health Department.

Of these cases, 9,681 were reported within Sacramento County. These numbers placed the county squarely within California’s top 10 for most reported cases of not only chlamydia (sixth), but also gonorrhea (eighth) and syphilis (10th).

The number of reported cases of sexually transmitted infections, or STDs, reached an all-time high in California in 2017. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis account for over 300,000 diagnosed cases in 2017, which represents a 45 percent increase over the past five years. This trend is reflected in the number of reported cases in Sacramento County—and it doesn’t look to be stopping, say public health officials.

“I can tell you from looking at the 2018 data, we’re not seeing lower rates of infection,” said Dr. Heidi Bauer, chief of the California Department of Public Health’s STD Control Branch. “It’s going to take a little while to turn this around.”

Chlamydia was the most commonly reported STD in California (and the nation as a whole), seeing a 9 percent increase from 2016’s 198,503 cases. Gonorrhea was second with 75,450 cases throughout the state, a 16 percent increase compared to the previous year’s 64,677 cases. In Sacramento County there were 3,341 reported cases of gonorrhea.

Often chlamydia and gonorrhea do not cause symptoms and therefore remain undiagnosed. According to a follow-up email from the state health department, “it is estimated that the number of new chlamydia and gonorrhea infections each year is roughly 140 percent higher than the number of reported cases.” If left untreated, these infections can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility. Also of concern is the antibiotic resistant strain of “super gonorrhea.”

Higher rates of syphilis are also cause for concern. Reported cases are up 20 percent statewide over last year. In 2017, there were 287 cases reported in Sacramento County, compared to 142 just five years earlier in 2012.

If left untreated, syphilis can cause neurological damage including blindness and deafness and can cause birth defects if a woman is infected while pregnant.

Though all three of these STDs are treatable with prescription antibiotics, prevention is key to slowing their spread. Many infected individuals don’t show symptoms, meaning they can spread STDs without realizing it and may face long-term effects of the infection going untreated.

Bauer said that changing these trends starts by breaking down the stigma of getting tested and creating an open dialogue about STDs and sexual health.

To prevent contracting STDs, the health department recommends using condoms, even if other contraceptives are being used to prevent pregnancy, and regular screenings even if you don’t show symptoms.