A worrying trend in the US shows no signs of stopping: rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) continue to rise, with combined cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia hitting a record high in 2018.
That's according to new figures published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It reported more than 115,000 cases of syphilis, 580,000 cases of gonorrhea, and 1.7 million cases of chlamydia over the course of last year.
While people often make light of STDs, these disease are killing people - and they're entirely preventable.
Perhaps most troubling is the 40 percent rise in cases of congenital syphilis (which is passed from mother to baby).
The number of newborn babies dying from congenital syphilis also increased 22 percent between 2017 and 2018, from 77 to 94 deaths
As well as newborn death, congenital syphilis can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, and severe physical and neurological problems that last a lifetime.
"STDs can come at a high cost for babies and other vulnerable populations," says Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.
"Curbing STDs will improve the overall health of the nation and prevent infertility, HIV, and infant deaths."
What makes the statistics all the more tragic is that syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia can all be cured using modern-day antibiotics. Left untouched to spread from person to person though, they can lead to a variety of health issues, including infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and increased HIV risk.
As STDs don't always show symptoms, calls to get checks can often go ignored, which isn't helping the jump in numbers that we're seeing. That lack of symptoms also means the actual number of cases is probably higher than what is being reported.
The CDC has highlighted three groups of factors that it thinks are contributing to these increasingly scary figures. First, drug use, poverty, stigma and unstable housing, all of which can have a negative effect on access to STI protection and care.
Second, less frequent condom use among groups particular vulnerable to STDs, which include young people and gay and bisexual men.
Lastly, cuts to STD healthcare programs at the local and state level.
The CDC is now calling for "urgent action" to try and reverse the trend. More resources, more funding, and more education is required, the agency says. What makes the story even more tragic is that syphilis was almost eradicated in the United States around the turn of the century.
As far as congenital syphilis goes, the CDC recommends that expectant mothers get checked earlier and checked often. Tests should be carried out at the first contact with a healthcare worker, the CDC says.
"There are tools available to prevent every case of congenital syphilis," says Gail Bolan, director of CDC's Division of STD Prevention. "Testing is simple and can help women to protect their babies from syphilis – a preventable disease that can have irreversible consequences."
Let's hope that this time next year there's more positive news to report.