California reached a record high in the number of sexually transmitted disease cases last year, with the state seeing an overall 45 percent spike in the number of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis cases over the past five years.
According to the state report, officials are most concerned about an uptick in the number of stillbirths due to congenital syphilis.
The data, which was compiled by the California Department of Public Health, revealed chlamydia and gonorrhea to be most rampant among people under 30, with rates of chlamydia highest among young women. Men accounted for the majority of syphilis and gonorrhea cases.
"While there are advocates and champions for cancer, nobody is out there saying, ‘I have gonorrhea and these are the best ways to treat it,'"
If left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can result in infertility, ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain, while syphilis can cause blindness, hearing loss and neurologic issues. With more than 300,000 cases of all three diseases reported in the state in 2017, researchers counted 30 stillbirths resulting from congenital syphilis.
“For California to have a steady increase in congenital syphilis is shameful,” Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine at University of California, Los Angeles, told the Associated Press. “We’ve known how to control syphilis since early 1900s. Seeing it come back like this is a sign of failure of the public health safety net.”
Officials were quick to point to a lack of public sex education and health programs in the community.
“While there are advocates and champions for cancer, nobody is out there saying, ‘I have gonorrhea and these are the best ways to treat it,’” Klausner told the Associated Press. “There’s no one out there being a champion for these conditions.”
The health department's chief of the division of communicable disease control also placed blame on social media.
"It makes it easier for people to meet people they don't already know to have sex," Dr. James Watt told the San Francisco Chronicle. "The internet allows for broadening of sexual networks, and the broader that gets the more opportunity you have for sexually transmitted diseases to spread."
The health department is now planning a greater public effort to spread awareness about the dangers of STDs and how to protect against them, but the head of the state’s STD Control Branch said budget issues have played a role in the uptick of cases.
Dr. Heidi Bauer estimated that about $20 million in state and federal money is allocated annually to fighting STDs. With a state population of nearly 40 million, Bauer said it isn’t enough, especially in areas struggling with poverty, substance abuse, mental health issues and homelessness.
The state's homeless population of more than 130,000 people accounts for about 25 percent of the nationwide total, with clean up efforts associated with the communities topping $10 million in 2016-17. Maintenance crews have been tasked with cleaning up feces, urine, needles and other dangerous materials as the cities grapple with how to handle the surge of homelessness.
In April, the health department reported a slowdown in the number of reported hepatitis A cases that was plaguing the homeless community since a 2016 outbreak began in San Diego County. It had spread to Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and Monterey counties, killing 21 people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.