Chlamydia rates in the US are skyrocketing

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Another case for condom use.

According to a report (pdf) published by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Wednesday (Oct. 19), the three most commonly reported sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the US  were at record-high levels in 2015. There were roughly 1.5 million cases of chlamydia—”the highest number of annual cases of any condition ever reported to CDC,” according to a summary (pdf) of the report—400,000 cases of gonorrhea, and 24,000 cases of syphilis documented by STI clinics and doctor’s offices across the country.

All three of these infections have increased from 2014, but most striking is the rise of chlamydia. In the last 30 years the number of reported cases of chlamydia have increased by a factor of 27, going from 1.74 infections per 1,000 people in 1985 to 4.79 per 1,000 last year.

Although chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis can all be cured with a dose of antibiotics, they need to be diagnosed first, and that’s where the problem appears to lie. Diagnosis usually happens at clinics funded by state and local governments—and the CDC reports that in 2012, the majority of these programs faced budget cuts, leading to “21 local health department STD clinics [closing] that year.” When left untreated, these infections can lead to problems like birth defects, stroke, and infertility, and cost an estimated $16 billion annually.

In addition, gonorrhea is becoming increasingly difficult to treat. Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes gonorrhea, develops resistance to antibiotics quickly. While it used to be able to be treated with one of five available antibiotics in 2006, now the CDC recommends treating it with two separate antibiotics.

Other STIs, like herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV), are often not reported to the CDC. These viral infections are impossible to cure, but fairly common: between one out of six and one out of four people have genital herpes, and 79 million have HPV.

Of course, condoms can prevent the spread of all of these infections.

Below are charts showing the 2015 rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in all the US states and territories. The District of Columbia stands out as having some of the highest rates of these infections, but this is likely because it is a city with a relatively small population compared to states.