1 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted infections every day: WHO
Drug resistant gonorrhea culture are shown under a microscope lens. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / HO, Public Health Ontario, Andrew Rimkus)
There are more than one million new cases of curable sexually transmitted infections diagnosed every day, according to new data from the World Health Organization.
In a report published in the WHO Online Bulletin on Thursday, researchers detail how STIs continue to spread among 15-to-49-year-olds worldwide, amounting to more than 376 million new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis annually.
“We’re seeing a concerning lack of progress in stopping the spread of sexually transmitted infections worldwide,” Dr. Peter Salama, the executive director for Universal Health Coverage and the Life-Course at WHO, said in a press release.
According to the paper, among men and women aged 15 to 49 years, there were 127 million new cases of chlamydia, 87 million of gonorrhea, 6.3 million of syphilis, and 156 million of trichomoniasis in 2016.
Salama said these numbers should be considered a “wake-up call” to “everyone, everywhere” that more services are needed to prevent and treat these diseases.
The researchers noted these four STIs can have serious long-term health consequences in adults and children if they’re left untreated.
“They can lead to serious and chronic health effects that include neurological and cardiovascular disease, infertility, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirths, and increased risk of HIV. They are also associated with significant levels of stigma and domestic violence,” the press release said.
Syphilis, in particular, caused an estimated 20,000 stillbirths and newborn deaths in 2016 and is considered one of the leading causes of baby loss globally, the WHO data said.
Although STIs are preventable through safe sexual practices, the WHO said they still remain a “persistent and endemic health threat” worldwide. In fact, the report said there has been no substantive decline in rates of new or existing STI infections since the latest published data on the subject from 2012.
“On average, approximately 1 in 25 people globally have at least one of these STIs,” the researchers said.
STIs are predominantly spread through unprotected sexual contact. Some infections, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, can be transmitted to babies during pregnancy and childbirth. Syphilis can also be spread through contact with infected blood or blood products and drug use through injections.
The WHO researchers said all bacterial STIs, which include chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea, can be treated and cured with widely available medications. However, there have been shortages in the global supply of the medication used to treat syphilis, benzathine penicillin.
The rise of antimicrobial resistance to gonorrhea treatments has also made it more difficult to contain, WHO researchers warn, adding that it may become a disease that is “impossible to treat.”
In light of these statistics, the report’s authors urged people who are sexually active to regularly seek testing and treatment for STIs. Pregnant women, especially, should receive automatic screening for syphilis as well as HIV, the researchers advised.
According to the WHO, symptoms of STIs can include genital lesions, urethral or vaginal discharge, pain when urinating, and bleeding between periods for women. However, in many cases, people don’t experience any symptoms at all, which is why it’s important for people to get tested on a regular basis.
“Timely and affordable testing and treatment are crucial for reducing the burden of STIs globally,” the study’s authors said.
The report titled “Global and Regional Estimates of the Prevalence and Incidence of Four Curable Sexually Transmitted Infections in 2016” was published in the WHO Online Bulletin on Thursday.