STD Rates In California Reach 'All-Time High'
According to a new report from the California Department of Public Health, California ranked first among all states in 2016 for the total number of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis. Bacterial STD rates (chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) in California "significantly increased" in 2016, with over a quarter million cases reported during the course of the year. This marks a 40% increase compared to five years ago, according to the CDPH, which characterized the 2016 data as marking an "all-time high" for the state.
"The number of reported STDs in California is increasing at a concerning rate," CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith said in a statement. "This is the third year in a row that we have seen increases in chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis."
All three of these diseases can be cured with antibiotics, but STDs can increase the risk of HIV infection and lead to lifelong reproductive health problems if left untreated. This makes the need for regular testing particularly important, even for people with no symptoms. These three diseases can also be prevented by consistent use of condoms, according to the CDPH.
"All Californians need to know how to protect themselves and their partners," Smith said. "Getting tested regularly is one of the most important steps." The L.A. County Department of Public Health encourages sexually active individuals to get tested every three months.
STD rates on the rise in California (California Department of Public Health powerpoint presentation slide)
Even with overall cases on the rise, disparities persisted in terms of which Californians were most affected: the highest rates were found among young people, African Americans, and gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men—vulnerable populations that are "at higher risk for related serious health outcomes such as HIV infection, infertility, ocular and neurosyphilis, and multi-drug resistant gonorrhea," according to the CDPH.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a statement Tuesday that it will be aligning resources and programming to address the disproportionate impact of STDs in communities of color, and among young people, transgender persons and men who have sex with men. The department "will be working closely with clinical providers to increase access to testing, reduce barriers to screening and treatment, and support provider training where appropriate," according to the statement.
In 2016, L.A. County reported 59,176 cases of chlamydia (a 4% increase compared to 2015), 22,361 cases of gonorrhea (27% increase), 4,018 cases of syphilis (16%) and 37 cases of congenital syphilis (61% increase). The cases of gonorrhea and congenital syphilis rose more sharply in L.A. County than the rest of the state, whereas chlamydia and syphilis cases rose at sharper rates statewide than locally, according to the County Department of Public Health.
There are numerous places that offer free, fast and confidential STD testing. To find one near you, enter your zip code here on the CDC's website. The L.A. County Department of Public Health also has their own list of sexual health clinics where you can receive free, confidential testing. Even if you're under 18, you don't need anyone's permission to get tested, or to access other reproductive health care services. In fact, California law dictates that anyone over the age of 12 has the right to access sexual health services without parental permission (see this youth rights page for more information).
The LA Condom program, which has distributed more than 12 million condoms across 600 sites over the last several years, also offers free condoms at locations across the county (find one near you here). If you live in L.A. County, they will also literally mail you 10 free condoms if you fill out this form.