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Chlamydia, STD Rates Soar in U.S.

Teenage Girls, Young Women Have Top Rates of Fertility-Robbing Infection

The Specter of Drug-Resistant Gonorrhea

Doctors only gradually became aware of the significance of chlamydia in the 1980s. They've known about gonorrhea far longer. And, since a relatively quick way to test for the infection became available in the 1970s, public health officials have been fighting the disease.

That battle looked successful in the years 1975-1997, which saw a 75% drop in gonorrhea infections. But now rates are going up again. One big problem is the rise of drug-resistant gonorrhea.

Nearly 14% of gonorrhea infections in 2006 were resistant to the fluoroquinolone antibiotics traditionally used to fight the disease. That means the drugs should no longer be used against gonorrhea, Douglas says.

That's a big problem, because there's only one remaining class of antibiotics left to fight gonorrhea: cephalosporins. Fortunately, Douglas says, researchers have not yet detected a strain of gonorrhea resistant to this drug.

But he says other germs have learned to resist the drug and that there's no reason gonorrhea could not eventually learn this trick.

"When that happens, it can be a sudden and abrupt change from drug-susceptible to not susceptible at all," Douglas says. "What would happen if we lost this class of drugs? We would have to turn to classes of antibiotics not previously explored against gonorrhea. That might have challenges such as requiring multiple doses or multiple drug combinations."

Syphilis Making a Comeback

No STD frustrates public health officials more than syphilis. It's long been the most dreaded of STDs, because if left untreated the disease can cause an astonishing number of terrible outcomes -- including blindness, mental derangement, and death.

The CDC has been at war with syphilis since the 1940s. For a while, victory was in sight. Syphilis rates hit a historic low in 2000. Since then, they've been on the rise. From 2005 to 2006, syphilis rates jumped 13.8%.

"The syphilis numbers are real and concerning, not in terms of massive population impact but because this is a disease that had been knocked off its feet -- near elimination -- and we have seen reverses in what could have been a preventable problem," Douglas says. "Trends in syphilis clearly are going in the wrong direction."

Driving the syphilis epidemic is a 64% increase in cases among men who have sex with men. But there's also been a troubling increase in syphilis among women. That's led to the first increase in 14 years in the number of babies who contract syphilis in the womb.

Another disturbing factor is that syphilis rates are still much higher among African-Americans than among whites. The situation is better than it was in 1999, when the rate was 29 times higher in African-Americans than among white Americans -- but a sixfold disparity remains.

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