U.S. surge in STIs threatens to converge with antimicrobial resistance 

antimicrobial resistance

With an upsurge in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the U.S. must take essential action to prevent an outbreak of another life-threatening epidemic—especially as the two converge.

On April 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the increasing cases of STIs in the U.S. The total number of reported cases in 2021 exceeded 2.5 million. The statistic includes the three main STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Throughout 2021, the CDC reported estimated growth rates of 4% for chlamydia and gonorrhea cases and a 32% increase in syphilis cases.

What does the STI surge mean for the U.S.?

As reported by the CDC, the infections disproportionately affect minority groups including gay and bisexual men, younger people, African American and Black communities, and American Indian and Alaskan Natives.

Social conditions may make it harder for certain groups to access testing and health centers. America must take substantially larger steps in order to slow the rise of STIs within these groups and regions. An increase in testing centers, public health services, and research are the foundations to slowing the epidemic.

Leandro Mena, the CDC Director of the Division of STD Prevention, spoke on the topic. “The U.S. STI epidemic shows no signs of slowing. The reasons for the ongoing increases are multifaceted—and so are the solutions. For the first time in decades, we’re seeing promising new STI interventions on the horizon, but these alone will not solve this epidemic.” She continued, “It will take many of us working together to effectively use new and existing tools, to increase access to quality sexual healthcare services for more people, and to encourage ongoing innovation and prioritization of STI prevention and treatment in this country.”

How AMR fits in

America must acknowledge the threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which looms larger every day. In late November 2022, Bio.News reported that AMR is a top 10 global public health threat. Around the same time, it was also announced that the U.N. would be creating a new Antimicrobial Resistance Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Platform.

Massachusetts’ Department of Public Health (DPH) announced in January 2023 that two cases of a drug-resistant gonorrhea infection had been identified within the U.S. for the first time in history. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), reasons for AMR within gonorrhea infections are due to factors such as unrestricted access to antimicrobials, improper antibiotic selection and overuse, and low-quality antibiotics.

The rise in cases of STIs in the U.S. indicates an increased risk of developing AMR. In addition, there is a concern that the development could lead to a decrease in the effectiveness of antibiotics in treating other types of bacterial infections.

Awareness, treatments, and reliable healthcare

To ensure U.S. citizens understand the true severity of this issue, an increase in awareness and public education is needed. CDC statistics state that an estimated 35,000 people die in the U.S. every year from AMR infections.

The overuse of antibiotics contributes to the rise of AMR, and the development of treatment options must also increase. Discovery of new vaccines and alternative treatment options are priorities. In July 2022, the CDC introduced new data on the rise of the STI epidemic at the International AIDS Conference. This included a list of research questions and objectives for this development.

Access to healthcare options also keeps STIs, and subsequently the potentiality of AMR, from being detected. Between January and June 2022, 27.4 million U.S. citizens did not have health insurance. As well, according the WHO, “In many settings, STI services are often neglected and underfunded. These problems lead to difficulties in providing testing for asymptomatic infections, insufficient number of trained personnel, limited laboratory capacity and inadequate supplies of appropriate medicines,” underscoring the crucial necessity of reliable healthcare systems.

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