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    Infectious Diseases A–Z: Sexually transmitted infections at a record high

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Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also referred to as sexually transmitted diseases, are at a record high in the U.S.

Sexually transmitted infections increased for the fifth consecutive year, with nearly 2.5 million combined cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, according to the annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Congenital syphilis can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, newborn death, and severe lifelong physical and neurological problems.

Dr. Gregory Poland, director of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, says we are in crisis and this is a real issue not only in the U.S., but also around the world. "For instance, somebody who begins to be sexually active today in America will certainly get infected with human papillomavirus," says Dr. Poland. "That virus causes genital warts and about seven different cancers, but the important thing is that while we don't have a cure for HPV, we have a vaccine to prevent that infection."

"Others, like gonorrhea and syphilis, are becoming anti-biotic resistant," says Dr. Poland. "And then there's a whole host of less common sexually transmitted diseases, like HPV, that we have no cure for, but there are a few we can prevent." says Dr. Poland.

Watch: Dr. Poland discusses sexually transmitted infections.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Poland are in the downloads at the end of this post. Please "Courtesy: Mayo Clinic News Network." 

"These infections can be life-changing," says Dr. Poland. "There are complications to these. Some of them are incurable, and, so, people have to take appropriate precautions and not think that casual sex is without complication or concern."

"When somebody develops an STI they usually don't know it, and, so, they transmit it other people. And it acts like an amplifier through society," says Dr. Poland. For instance, he says women who get an STI can transmit it to their newborn infant. Cases of congenital syphilis — syphilis passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy — increased 40% from 2017 to 2018, according to the CDC report.

Dr. Poland adds, "This is such a crisis that the CDC is now recommending women up to age 45 be immunized with the HPV vaccine. Before, it was age 26, and we’ve moved it up."