Sexually transmitted diseases hit 10-year high in Rhode Island

Increase in online dating, decrease in using protection cited

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The number of people in Rhode Island who have sexually transmitted diseases – especially chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis – is way up, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health. The trend is being seen nationwide, too, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2016, nearly 5,000 Rhode Islanders were diagnosed with chlamydia, up from just over 3,000 in 2007. More than 700 cases of gonorrhea were diagnosed in 2016, compared to 400 in 2007. And for syphilis, 90 people were diagnosed in 2016, compared to 2007’s 46.

Put together, it’s a ten-year high in the three STDs, the Rhode Island Department of Health’s Joseph Wendleken said on Wednesday. He called it “very disturbing.”

The reason why STDs are skyrocketing is not clear. Condoms and other forms of protection are more accessible than ever.

The theory is that more people are taking part in risky sexual behavior and meeting more potential casual sex partners through the surge of online or app-based dating.

“What we might be seeing is changes in norms and attitudes about the need to wear protection,” Wendleken said. “We’re trying to combat that and let people know that condoms are as important now as they ever have been.”

And if you have one disease, another could follow, he added: “Any of these illnesses – having them will make your body more susceptible to contracting HIV.”

The CDC released nationwide numbers Tuesday, showing the country at large also marked its highest number ever of STDs reported: more than two million in 2016.

Another reason for the increase in reporting of cases, according to Wendleken, could be that more people are finding out because now they have health insurance, and are getting screened. “We might be seeing more diagnoses, but not necessarily an increase in cases that’s as sharp as the numbers we’re seeing.”

The CDC’s report also pointed to STD increases among pregnant women, and significant jumps among gay and bisexual men (as well as men who have sex with men but do not identify as a sexual minority).

The recommendations from the CDC:

  • Young women, under 25, who are sexually active, should request annual chlamydia and gonorrhea tests. Those who have never been tested for HIV should get tested for that too.
  • Pregnant women should request these tests, early in pregnancy: syphilis, HIV, chlamydia, and hepatitis B. Those with multiple sex partners or who are under 25 should also get gonorrhea tests early in the pregnancy.
  • Men having sex with men should get tested once a year for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV. Those at high risk – who have multiple sex partners – should get more frequently tested.

Remedies for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis include antibiotics. HIV and AIDS treatments are also available, including PrEP, a daily pill designed to ward off HIV for those at higher risk.