Black youth and young adults are at higher risk for STD infection
Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its most recent surveillance data for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States.
What they found isn’t encouraging, especially when it comes to African Americans. Researchers found that overall 20 million Americans were infected with some type of STD in 2012 and almost half of those affected were between the ages of 15 and 24.
Eloisa Llata, a CDC epidemiologist and the report’s co-author, says these numbers have increased from 2011. “While chlamydia rates stayed the same, we know that syphilis was up 16 percent and gonorrhea increased 4 percent.”
Looking closer at the data for race, the numbers painted an even more daunting picture for African Americans. According to the report, while blacks account for 14 percent of the U.S. population, we account for almost two-thirds of all reported cases of gonorrhea, one-third for chlamydia and almost half of all syphilis cases.
Other disparities included:
Black women were more than six times more likely to have chlamydia than white women, and black men were eight times more likely to have the STD than white men. These rates were the highest among blacks ages 15 to 24.
Black men were 16.2 times more likely to have gonorrhea than white men, and black women were 13.8 times more likely than their white counterparts.
In 2012, the rate of syphilis among black men was 5.7 times the rate among white men; the rate among black women was 16 times the rate among white women.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) were also at an increased risk for syphilis, which past data has shown has been an ongoing issue among black MSM as well.
There are two important things to keep in mind with this study. First, the data doesn’t explain why these racial disparities exist. Second, this data only includes cases that they were reported to the CDC. It doesn’t include an estimate of how many people have STDs and don’t know.
And not knowing is more common than you might think.
Given that most STDs, especially in men, show no symptoms, many people are completely unaware of their status and in fact may be unintentionally infecting others. Being undiagnosed and untreated for STDs can bring about a range of complications that include chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy, fetal death and infertility.
“Having an untreated STD can make you two to five times more likely to contract HIV,” Llata says. But she also points out some good news: STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are curable.
“This is why it’s important to get tested, use condoms, have open communication with your partner and for doctors to test more of their patients.” She also emphasizes for female patients to be proactive. “Don’t assume that because you are getting a Pap smear you are being tested for STDs, because the two are not the same thing. Let your doctor know that you want to be tested.”