• By Deb Balzer

Infectious Diseases A-Z: Sexually transmitted infections are on the rise

June 26, 2017

a young couple lying in bed, surrounded by white sheets and comforter, holding and hugging each other
Social media apps, barriers to testing and stigma may contribute to the increase in sexually transmitted infections including gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of reported sexually transmitted infections is at an unprecedented high.

Watch: Dr. Pritish Tosh discusses increase in sexually transmitted infections.

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Dr. Pritish Tosh, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist, says, "It's now much easier for people who wish to engage in high-risk sexual activity with multiple sex partners to find other people who are interested in engaging in high-risk sexual activity with multiple sex partners in real time. Some studies have shown these apps have contributed to the rise in sexually transmitted infections."

Young people, and bisexual and gay men face the greatest risk of becoming infected with sexually transmitted infections.

"There’s already an inherent barrier of people being embarrassed if they think that they may have a sexually transmitted infection; then there are barriers to health care of people perhaps not having access to a health care," says Dr. Tosh. "Social stigma, especially when we’re talking about the population of men who have sex with men. It's a reason why we tend to see higher rates in that population."

Prevention is key. Dr. Tosh says know your partner. Use safe-sex practices. And if you develop symptoms, see a health care provider. Treatment is available.

"For the large part, these sexually transmitted infections are treatable or at least manageable," says Dr. Tosh. "We’re talking about gonorrhea, chlamydia or syphilis. These are curable. Even infections like HIV now have very effective antiretroviral therapy, which can manage the infection. Right now, we don’t have a cure. But, for the most part, these sexually transmitted infections can be either cured or dealt with. It’s important that people seek treatment from their health care provider if they have any symptoms."

Symptoms of common sexually transmitted infections may include:

  • Sores or bumps on the genitals, or in the oral or rectal area
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Discharge from the penis
  • Unusual or odd-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Pain during sex
  • Sore, swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the groin but sometimes more widespread
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Rash over the trunk, hands or feet