California’s rates for sexually transmitted diseases have hit record highs and San Francisco’s numbers are even worse, according to recent data released by the California Department of Public Health.

In the last five years, California’s rates of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis have increased 45 percent.

In 2017, the number of people in The City affected by syphilis increased 25.5 percent, which translates to 292 new cases in The City, compared to 20 percent statewide. The 970 new chlamydia cases in The City resulted in a 12 percent increase compared to the state’s 9 percent jump. However, the local increase in the number of gonorrhea cases, 10.7 percent, to 554 new cases, was not as dramatic as the state’s 16 percent spike.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health is pushing for people to use more condoms and working to increase access to screenings, according to Dr. Susan Philip, director of the department’s disease prevention and control branch.

“We’re going to have to be really innovative,” Philip said. “Remind people about the basics like condom use and also offer new ways for people to access that screening and treatment if needed.”

There is no single factor that health professionals can point to as the cause for the skyrocketing STD rates in The City.

“It is multi-factorial in its cause,” Philip said. “We watch the numbers very closely. There is, unfortunately, not one answer to this issue.”

The groups at the greatest risk, according to recent data, are women, Native Americans, black people, gay and bisexual men and young people.

In the last five years, the number of women in California who have been diagnosed with syphilis has increased seven-fold, according to the most recent state data. Women often don’t show physical symptoms and go untreated.

“Unfortunately it really mirrors what were seeing in the state and more broadly what is being seen across the U.S.,” Philip said.

For black and Native American residents, Philip said issues can include lack of access to health providers and the stigma that surrounds sexually transmitted diseases.

Gay and bisexual men are also at higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases because for some, PReP, a pill intended to prevent HIV transmission, is the only method being used for protection from sexually transmitted diseases, according to Philip.

“Those do nothing to prevent gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis,” she said of the pills.

Young people under 25 are the most at risk for spreading STDs, according to city and state findings. While the Department of Public Health has yet to roll out a plan of action for offering more HIV and STD screenings, the agency recently began working with San Francisco State University to offer free testing to all students, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner.

The City agency encourages women under 25 to get annual STD screenings and sexually active transgender people and men having sex with other men to be screened every three months.

Sadie Gribbon
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Sadie Gribbon

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