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The STD surge: Florida hits record high rates, surpassing pre-pandemic levels

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STDs in Florida are surpassing pre-pandemic levels, hitting its highest since 1990.

Sexually transmitted disease rates in the state are on the rise, surpassing pre-pandemic levels. In particular, Florida ranks 14th on the CDC's national list when it comes to congenital syphilis.

Sexually transmitted disease rates in Florida have skyrocketed by 42% in the last decade.

These numbers are surpassing pre-pandemic levels, hitting its highest since 1990.

Hillsborough County is the greater Tampa Bay area's STD hotspot. The region has 932 cases per 100,000 residents.

The highest rate in Florida belongs to Leon County with 1,760 per 100,000 people, which is more than twice the state average.

Jason Salemi is an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

He said decreased condom use at a young age, online dating platforms, and even drug problems can contribute to the rise of common STDs — like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, etc.

"Whether you call it a crisis or an epidemic, I just know that there's an increase in the rates of these STDs, especially emerging out of the pandemic," he said.

Salemi also said numbers may be rising because it's easier than ever to detect these diseases with advanced technology, along with a push for more screenings.

"This constellation of factors that might be driving higher STD rates," he said. "It's something that we absolutely need to pay attention to and think about how best to fund initiatives that are going to provide people with the preventive and the treatment services that they need."

A large part of the surge comes from congenital syphilis — a disease that occurs when a pregnant person with syphilis passes it on to their baby during pregnancy.

Florida ranks 14th on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national list for congenital syphilis rate in 2022 at 127.6 per 100,000 live births.

"We're seeing a lot more young babies who are dying, having deformed bones, having severe anemia, jaundice, meningitis, like all the scary things that could otherwise be prevented," Salemi said.

Preventative measures include STD tests for pregnant people during their first prenatal visit.

"Syphilis can be treated and it can be cured with antibiotics," Salemi said. "Think about how straightforward it can be to prevent syphilis with early detection to prevent these worst outcomes in the baby."

To help prevent the spread, he suggests decreasing unprotected sex by removing the stigma surrounding carrying condoms.

He also stressed the importance of getting screened.

“You hear the expression ignorance is bliss all the time, but I can promise you that does absolutely nothing good," Salemi said. "For so many of these conditions, knowing about it means we can do something about it immediately, and prevent the likelihood that it's going to take a severe toll on your life.”

You can get tested at your local healthcare provider or clinic.

"The ramifications of something like this, not just for the woman, but in these newborn babies, is astonishing when you think about how straightforward it can be to prevent syphilis, and certainly even with early detection to prevent these worst outcomes in the baby," he said.

"We need to clearly do something about it."

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National STD Hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636).

Kayla Kissel is a WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for spring of 2024.
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