There’s a ‘hidden epidemic’ of diseases like chlamydia and syphilis, and dating apps may only be part of the problem
A June 6 report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are spreading at an alarming rate worldwide, with 1 million new STIs occurring in people between the ages of 15 and 49 every day.
WHO identified gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, and trichomoniasis(a parasitic STI that can lead to genital inflammation) as the STIs with the most new cases. In 2016, the year the data was collected, there were 127 million new cases of chlamydia, 87 million of gonorrhea, 6.3 million of syphilis, and 156 million of trichomoniasis.
“These STIs have a profound impact on the health of adults and children worldwide,” according to a WHO press release. “If untreated, they can lead to serious and chronic health effects that include neurological and cardiovascular disease, infertility, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirths, and increased risk of HIV. They are also associated with significant levels of stigma and domestic violence.”
Dating apps could be partially to blame for such a large increase in STI cases
As STI cases continue to rise, some experts believe dating apps are related to the uptick.
“The internet and mobile phones have changed a lot about lives, including our sex lives, and dating apps make it easier to meet sex partners,” Nicholas Moss, HIV/STD section director at Alameda County Health Department, told Fox 46 Charlotte in October 2018.
If ease of meeting sex partners translates to more unprotected sex, it makes sense that a spike in STI cases would occur. (Condom use drastically lowers the risk of spreading STIs; abstaining from sex is the only way to entirely prevent them.) Still, the dating app theory is only that, and it doesn’t mean dating apps are the only factor.
New STI treatments could actually be increasing STI cases
In addition to dating apps, gynecologist Dr. Donnica Moore said it’s possible new STI treatments could have played a role in the increase in global STI cases.
“Ironically, now that better treatments exist for STIs like herpes and gonorrhea, people may be becoming more complacent. Before they were more scared that an STI was a death sentence,” Dr. Moore told INSIDER.
Today, antibiotics are able to treat people with chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis.
For people with incurable STIs like HIV and herpes, antiviral drugs exist to prevent or clear up outbreak symptoms and stop the virus from spreading.
Still, the spread of these infections raises concern as antiviral treatments have the potential to become ineffective and cause STIs to become rampant and incurable. Experts fear that gonorrhea, for example, could become a drug-resistant superbug that eventually cannot be cured through medication.
Currently, gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics.
Implantable birth control methods could also play a role
Dr. Moore also said the rising popularity of intrauterine devices (IUDs) and other implantable birth controls like the arm implant could have contributed to the spread of STIs.
“[There’s a] greater interest in IUDs because of Affordable Care Act, but IUDs don’t offer protection against STIs,” Dr. Moore said.
Rather, implantable birth control methods only reduce a person’s risk of becoming pregnant, and the only birth control methods that also double as STI protection are male and female condoms.
But people may not realise that birth control doesn’t always protect against disease or assume that having one partner protects them from infections, Dr. Moore said.
In reality, a person could have an STI without even knowing it or not disclose that they have one and spread it to a new person during condom-free sex.
Dr. Moore thinks this is also the case for older folks who are having an increasing amount of sex with new partners after divorce. “[People over 50] may not be as careful using condoms because they didn’t get that talk in school and they aren’t as worried about getting pregnant either,” she said.