Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis cases are on the rise nationally, and Louisiana’s case rates rank as some of the highest among them, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) released Tuesday.
The state had the nation’s second highest chlamydia rate, the third highest congenital syphilis rate (or the rate of syphilis among newborns), the fifth highest gonorrhea rate and the seventh highest primary and secondary syphilis rate.
But Dr. DeAnn Gruber, director of the Louisiana Department of Health’s Bureau for Infectious Diseases, said those rankings are mostly down from last year’s report, in which the state ranked second highest in rates of chlamydia, first in congenital syphilis, third in gonorrhea and third in primary and secondary syphilis.
“Even though we're in the Top 10 still, we see this as being progress that we're no longer only in the Top 3,” Gruber said.
Louisiana saw a reported 36,293 chlamydia cases, 12,042 gonorrhea cases, 669 primary and secondary syphilis cases and 46 cases of congenital syphilis.
In some cases, the decline in Louisiana’s rankings were due to a decline in case rates, but in others, it was due to an increase in other state’s rates.
The state’s congenital syphilis cases went down 22% from last year’s report which helped it jump down four spots in the national rankings. It was the first time in nearly a decade the state did not rank first.
She attributes part of this decline to the fact that in response to the high rates Louisiana began seeing in the early 2000s, the state assembled regional STD/HIV task forces and case review teams to determine better strategies to reduce cases.
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In 2014, the state passed a law requiring that every pregnant woman be tested for both syphilis and HIV at their first prenatal care visit and again in their third trimester.
Primary and secondary syphilis decreased by about 1% from the previous year, as the national rate jumped by 15%. Louisiana’s gonorrhea and chlamydia case rates increased, but not as much as other states.
The number of reported combined cases of the three STDs reached an all-time high in the United States in 2018, with 1.8 million chlamydia cases, more than 583,000 gonorrhea cases and more than 36,000 syphilis cases between 2017 and 2018. That’s a 63% increase in gonorrhea cases and a 19% increase in chlamydia cases since 2014, the CDC report said.
People in Louisiana most affected by STDs are people between 13-24, gay and bisexual men and pregnant women.
Gruber said that some of the biggest obstacles the state faces in lowering STD rates is the stigma surrounding sexual health, sexual education and access to treatment.
Many physicians do not stock the treatment for syphilis, which must be injected. The state is currently piloting a program where pregnant women who face barriers, such as transportation or child care, to receiving those injections, can have a public health nurse administer them at their home.
“I think it was the first time in a long time that we actually had some level of encouragement and hope that the number of things that we've been doing through the health department and with our community partners and with our clinicians, that we actually are making some progress,” Gruber said of the report.
Dr. Jason Halperin, a physician at New Orleans health clinic CrescentCare, says as long as the number of new diagnoses are going down, rising total cases are actually evidence people with the virus are living longer.