ATLANTA – Sexually spread diseases — for years on the decline — are on the rise, with reported chlamydia cases setting a record, government health officials said Tuesday.
The increase in chlamydia, a sometimes symptomless infection that can lead to infertility in women, is likely because of better screening, experts said. In 2007, there were 1.1 million cases, the most ever reported, said officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At least 15,000 women become infertile each year because of untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea infections, said Dr. John M. Douglas Jr., director of the CDC's Division of STD Prevention.
Syphilis cases, which number only in the thousands, also rose modestly, while the number of gonorrhea cases remained roughly the same. Syphilis can kill, if left untreated, but chlamydia and gonorrhea are not life-threatening.
Chlamydia can infect men, but rates are nearly three times higher for women. That's at least partly due to 1993 federal recommendations that emphasize testing for sexually active women age 25 and under. That focus on screening in recent years is no doubt driving the record numbers, said Dr. Jonathan Zenilman, a professor of infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
"The issue with chlamydia is the more tests, the more you'll find," Zenilman said.
The percentage of young women being tested for the infection rose by double digits from 2003 to 2007, according to the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a nonprofit that monitors health care.
The latest case numbers for chlamydia translate to a rate of 370 cases per 100,000 people in 2007, up 7.5 percent from 2006.
The reported cases are just part of the picture. Health officials believe as many as 2.8 million Americans get chlamydia each year.
Many men and women have no symptoms from it. Some women experience pain in their lower abdomen or notice a burning sensation or a pus-like discharge when they urinate. Some men may also feel a burning during urination or have a discharge.
Gonorrhea cases appear to have plateaued and are currently at about 356,000 cases. Syphilis was on the verge of being eliminated in the United States about 10 years ago, but lately has been inching up. More than 11,000 new cases of the most contagious form of the disease were reported in 2007.
Syphilis is relatively rare but has become a growing threat, particularly for gay and bisexual men, who accounted for about 65 percent of the 2007 cases.