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Sex Diseases Cost $16 Billion a Year to Treat, CDC Says

Sexually transmitted diseases cost $16 billion each year to treat in the U.S., with 19.7 million infections diagnosed annually, the nation’s health agency found.

People ages 15 to 24 account for half of the annual cases, according to reports released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are about 110 million total infections among U.S. men and women of all ages, the agency said, with the most common infection human papillomavirus, a virus linked to cancer.

Young people have borne a disproportionate burden of sexually transmitted diseases for as long as the Atlanta-based CDC has kept records, said Catherine Satterwhite, an author of one of the reports and a CDC epidemiologist. They often don’t have good insurance or difficulties accessing care, she said.

“We’ve seen a disproportionate burden for quite a while,” Satterwhite said in a telephone interview. “Young women in particular are at greater risk.”

The CDC reported data on eight sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, herpes and HPV.

Drug-resistant gonorrhea is a growing threat, the agency said in a separate study published today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. There aren’t enough antibiotics in development and more experimental therapies are needed immediately, according to the report. For now, to minimize the spread of resistant strains, more people should be screened and treated, the agency said.

Trends Persist

The sexually transmitted diseases study released yesterday, which uses data from 2008, the most recent comprehensive information available, isn’t directly comparable with previous studies because of changes in the reporting methods, the CDC said. However, some trends, including that of younger patients, have persisted.

All sexually transmitted diseases are preventable, many are curable and all are treatable, Satterwhite said. Getting more people tested effectively, such as making sure more young women are screened for chlamydia and all sexually active adults are tested for HIV at least once, would help, she said.

The costliest STDs are HIV, which requires lifelong care, and HPV, which causes throat, anal, penile, and cervical tumors. Use of vaccines that can prevent HPV, made by Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline Plc, have remained low as rates of HPV-related cancers have risen, according to a study last month in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Curable sexually transmitted diseases cost $742 million, with chlamydia as the most common and the most expensive.

Prevention strategies for STDs include abstaining from sex, condom use, and mutually monogamous relationships, Satterwhite said. The HPV vaccine made by Merck called Gardasil is recommended for boys and girls to help prevent cancers.

The two reports on sexually transmitted infections’ prevalence and cost, were published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

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