BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Findings from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that from 2017 to 2018 there were increases in the rates of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis across the United States.
Eugene Collins, director of community services with Open Health Care Clinic in Baton Rouge, says they treat STD cases daily.
“We see a lot of chlamydia cases. We see a lot of gonorrhea cases. It is no surprise those numbers came out. We still have to do a lot with reducing risk,” Collins said.
The CDC says chlamydia increased 3% to more than 1.7 million cases; that’s the most ever reported. The report says gonorrhea increased to more than 580,000 cases. The primary and secondary stages of syphilis, which are the most infectious, increased to more than 35,000 cases. But the report says some of that is due to more people being tested.
“The way public health works, you’re going to see an increase before you see that decrease," Collins said. "They become aware and intentionally, you’re going to find more cases. Over time, we’re hoping the work that we do will help people reduce risk and we’ll see those cases balance off.”
Despite testing reducing national numbers, Collins says there continues to be a stigma surrounding testing. In addition to drug use, poverty, unstable housing, and decreased condom use among vulnerable groups are contributing factors.
Collins says the way some people view STD testing makes it harder for those in need to be proactive.
“Those thoughts trickle down and become barriers," he said.
The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) says despite the national increase in numbers, Louisiana is improving in STD healthcare. Health experts say Louisiana used to lead the nation in congenital syphilis. That’s when the disease travels to newborns. But LDH says they are doubling down on improving key obstacles that stop pregnant women from getting care.
Alex Billioux, assistant secretary for public health, says, “In 2017, we had 59 cases of congenital syphilis. In 2018, that’s down to 46.”
Billioux says that’s due to improved clinic transportation and late diagnoses.
“People getting diagnosed too late in pregnancy. Frankly, people getting access to penicillin. The treatment is penicillin, one of the oldest antibiotics we have,” he said.
Billioux says penicillin expensive, so not all doctors keep it in stock. He says LDH has created new policies that allow them to bring the penicillin to doctors; they can also now treat pregnant women at home.
LDH says in 2018 there were 12,043 cases of gonorrhea in the state. Louisiana now ranks fifth nationally. In 2018, there were 36,293 cases of chlamydia. Louisiana remains ranked second in the nation.
Sexual health has been a topic for years among health professionals, so they’re encouraging parents to talk to their kids about safe sexual practices in order to see those numbers decrease further.