Californians achieved a new record in 2017, but it’s not one they should be proud of or happy about.
The number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases in California reached a record high last year and officials are particularly concerned by a spike in stillbirths due to congenital syphilis, and Obamacare is to blame, state health authorities said.
More than 300,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported in 2017, a 45 percent increase from five years ago, according to data released by the California Department of Public Health.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are most common among people under 30, the report said. Rates of chlamydia are highest among young women, while men account for the majority of syphilis and gonorrhea cases.
If left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain. Syphilis can result in blindness, hearing loss and neurologic problems.
The figure that caused the greatest alarm for researchers and administrators was 30 stillbirths resulting from congenital syphilis statewide — the highest number reported since 1995, the CDPH said. Los Angeles County alone saw congenital syphilis cases jump from eight in 2013 to 47 last year.
“For California to have a steady increase in congenital syphilis is shameful,” said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine at University of California, Los Angeles. He pointed to nations such as Cuba, Thailand and Belarus that have nearly eliminated the life-threatening infection seen in infants.
“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,” Klausner said.
Klausner placed much of the blame for the overall STD spike on what he called the “decimation” of public health infrastructure since the 2008 financial crisis. Funding slashed a decade ago hasn’t been restored, leading to continued closing of clinics and collapse of education programs about risks and treatment options.
Bauer also suggested the rise in STDs may be a symptom of more general problems in areas such as the economically hard-hit San Joaquin Valley where people are struggling with poverty, substance abuse, mental health issues and homelessness.
She also partially blamed the funneling of patients away from public health services toward primary care physicians under the Obamacare.
“For sexual health, primary care wasn’t the most effective method,” Bauer said. Someone who depended on public clinics for STD screening and treatment may not want to discuss it with their doctor, or may not have a doctor at all, she said.
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