Preliminary data released by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US reveal nearly 2.3 million incidences of chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis were diagnosed in 2017 – an increase of roughly 200,000 from the year before.
It's not entirely clear what's behind the rise, but the literature all points to various factors involving a drop in prevention funding, insufficient access to healthcare and sex education, and stigma about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs, sometimes also referred to as STIs).
The CDC's analysis might not come as much of a surprise to those watching its figures steadily creep up this decade. For the past four years, reports on the big three infections have continued to skyrocket.
Often considered a historical disease, 'great pox' – better known today as syphilis – is making a terrifying comeback, with 30,644 cases of primary and secondary forms of the condition being diagnosed last year. That's up from 17,375 incidences in 2013.
Gonorrhoea alone jumped from 333,004 cases in 2013 to 555,608. That's a rise of 67 percent. The rate of its diagnosis among men has virtually doubled.
Chlamydia remains the most common of the infections, with 1.7 million cases diagnosed. Just under half of these were among women aged 15 to 24.
The cause of this rising tide of infection is no doubt complicated, and the fix won't be cheap or straightforward.
According to the executive director of the US National Coalition of STD Directors, David Harvey, the federal government shoulders a good proportion of the responsibility.
"Here's a quote for members of the media," Harvey told a press conference recently.
"Ready? It is time that President Trump and Secretary [of Health and Human Services Alex] Azar declare STDs in America a public health crisis."
While stigma might make some people not want to talk about STDs or seek medical assistance, with common complications including an increased risk of infertility, stillbirth, and ectopic pregnancies, there's far more at stake than mild discomfort. Harvey points out that 1,000 babies each year are born with congenital syphilis passed on from their mother.
"We are failing these mothers and their newborns," says Harvey.
What's more, by the CDC's estimates the nation spent some US$16 billion in 2013 on treating all STIs, including HIV, herpes, and hepatitis.
Funding programs that aim to prevent and control the spread of common STDs would be a far wiser way to spend that money.
Harvey is calling on the government to earmark $70 million immediately to address the crisis.
Part of the issue is a lack of awareness among the general public on what an STD looks like. A transmissible STD doesn't always present symptoms. And a lack of symptoms means a carrier often feels no obligation to get checked out.
There's also something to be said for the apathy that comes with conditions that can be treated with a simple course of antibiotics.
Yet it's a quick fix we too easily take for granted, and with drug-resistant strains of gonorrhoea rapidly spreading across the globe, we could soon be forced to deal with a shocking crisis.
"We expect gonorrhoea will eventually wear down our last highly effective antibiotic, and additional treatment options are urgently needed," says Gail Bolan, M.D., director of CDC's Division of STD Prevention.
"We can't let our defences down – we must continue reinforcing efforts to rapidly detect and prevent resistance as long as possible."
Easy access to routine STD screens and a healthy respect for protection would go a long way to turning this alarming trend around.
It's clearly not a problem that's about to go away on its own.