California health officials are sounding the alarm about rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases, especially among young people.
There were 216,000 reportable cases of STDs in California in 2013, according to new data from the California Department of Public Health. Rates of gonorrhea increased 13 percent in 2013 compared with 2012, and rates of primary and secondary syphilis (the most infectious stages) increased 18 percent.
"We consider these very significant and concerning increases in numbers of cases and rates of disease," said Heidi Bauer, chief of the STD control program at the Department of Public Health.
Chlamydia rates decreased slightly for the first time in two decades – but it's still the most commonly reported STD in the state.
"The increase is seen overall, but when you look at who is most affected by these infections, it's women more so than men, in many cases, and young people in general," Bauer said.
Women ages 15 to 24 made up more than 66 percent of female chlamydia cases, and more than 54 percent of female gonorrhea cases. Young women are most vulnerable to infertility and other long-term reproductive health problems caused by STDs, according to the health department.
There are also significant racial disparities: African-Americans have a rate of gonorrhea more than six times the rate of non-Hispanic Whites, the department said.
Bauer said there isn't any one explanation for the increase in STDs, but she noted that "we do know that these infections result from high-risk sexual behaviors. So if you see reduced condom use, for example, you might see increases in STDs."
Bauer recommends that people at risk of STDs should get tested and, if necessary, get treated quickly and notify their partners.
Along with testing, health officials said people can reduce their risk of contracting an STD by using condoms, reducing their number of sexual partners, being in a monogamous relationship, or practicing abstinence.