We spoke to Dr. Harold Wiesenfeld, director of gynecologic specialties and reproductive infectious disease at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, about the recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report,” which found sexually transmitted diseases are at a record high in the United States.
A. This is a very concerning report. This represents an ongoing, and perhaps increasing, threat to public health. This should serve as a warning and an alarm to our country that we have much more to do in getting this epidemic under control.
Why do you think syphilis rates increased by nearly 18 percent from 2015 to 2016?
A. There has been a surge in syphilis affecting new populations, and its rise is worrisome. While it disproportionately affects men who have sex with men, we are now seeing a nationwide increase in syphilis in women, and as a result, an increase in congenital syphilis. According to the report, congenital syphilis resulted in 40 deaths in 2016 and severe, lifelong health complications among newborns. While congenital syphilis carries devastating consequences, it is nearly completely preventable.
What could help lower these rates in the future?
A. As a society, we need to destigmatize STDs because they are quite common, and physicians need to be vigilant on discussing STD risks and screenings with their patients. People need to feel comfortable and educated on receiving routine care and requesting STD screening, which includes screening for HIV.