Cases of some sexually transmitted diseases, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, are rising in the U.S. armed forces, a trend that mirrors the general population but alarms military health officials who treat affected troops.
According to a report released earlier this year by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch, incidence rates of chlamydia in service men and women more than doubled from 2013 to 2018, gonorrhea infection rates also doubled for men and rose by 33 percent for women, and diagnoses of syphilis were nearly three times the number just 10 years ago.
In a press release Wednesday, Defense Department officials said the increases can mean negative consequences for military readiness.
"From a military standpoint, sexually transmitted infections can have a significant impact on individual readiness, which in turn impacts unit readiness, which then leads to a decrease in force health protection," said Maj. Dianne Frankel, an Air Force internal medicine physician, in the release.
Nearly 350,000 troops were diagnosed with a sexually transmitted illness between 2010 and 2018. According to the report, that included 212,405 cases of chlamydia, 32,987 cases of gonorrhea, 4,674 cases of syphilis, 28,295 cases of genital herpes and 71,138 cases of HPV
Across the services, rates for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and genital herpes simplex virus were highest in the Army. The Navy had the highest overall rate of syphilis, while the Air Force had the highest rate of genital human papillomavirus (HPV) cases.
Frankel said in addition to affecting readiness, sexually transmitted diseases "place a significant economic strain on the U.S. and military health care systems." In 2012 alone, according to the release, the Navy paid $5.4 million in STD-associated health care treatment costs.
Defense Department officials say cases may be on the rise because troops are increasingly engaging in high-risk sexual behaviors, having sex without a condom or having more than one sexual partner. Social media and dating apps may also play a role, said Norma Jean Suarez, a nurse practitioner in preventive medicine at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas. According to Suarez, access to random or anonymous sexual encounters can contribute to exposure. Having anonymous sex is on the CDC's list of behaviors that increase risk for contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Read more via Military.com