Health

The surprising and alarming reasons behind the US’ ‘out of control’ STI epidemic – and it starts with dating apps…

Leading sexual health experts have blamed record-high cases of sexually transmitted infections on the ‘explosion’ in popularity of dating apps like Hinge and Bumble. 

Last week, officials deemed the spiraling cases of conditions like chlamydia and syphilis striking the US an ‘out of control’ epidemic. 

The warning followed the release of the latest CDC data that showed 2.5 million cases of STIs were detected in 2022, marking a rise in chlamydia and, most worryingly, potentially deadly syphilis. 

Prevalence of the infection, which can damage the brain and heart, has shot up  almost 80 percent in five years. 

The shocking figures have led to fierce debate among the medical community as to what is causing the alarming situation.

Some, for instance, have pointed to the staggering drop in condom use among American men – almost 30 percent since 2011, according to some studies.

This graph shows how syphilis cases are rising again in the US and are now at their highest level since the 1950s

80797569 13038723 image a 8 1707162535860 The surprising and alarming reasons behind the US' 'out of control' STI epidemic - and it starts with dating apps...

And doctors have intriguing theories as to why this is.

Now, some of the US’ leading sexual health experts have told DailyMail.com of their fascinating explanations for the leap in infections.

The never-ending Covid ‘hangover’ and the digital dating revolution are just two of the many reasons…

SYPHILIS USED TO MOSTLY AFFECT GAY MEN – THEN CAME DATING APPS…

In 2000, syphilis was on the verge of eradication with a record-low of 5,979 cases per year in the US.

In 2022, there were 207,000 diagnoses, according to official data.

A decade a go, experts say infections – which spread via contact with a syphilitic sore, which usually forms on the genitals –  were almost all among gay or bisexual men.

But there was a sudden ‘shift’ in 2013, when cases began to rise among women and straight men.

Experts say much of this can be explained by the increasingly popularity of dating apps among heterosexual people, like Tinder, which launched in 2012.

Grindr – a dating app used by gay men – launched in 2009, when syphilis cases among men who have sex with men began to gradually rise.

Experts suggest the apps expanded access to sexual partners, as Americans no longer had to rely on meeting potential suitors in person. 

Dr Joseph Cherabie, a sexual health expert in St Louis, Missouri, told DailyMail.com: ‘The way we date, meet people, hook up, has been made a lot more easy with the advent of dating apps — so that plays a role.

‘All of a sudden, you have a bunch of potential mates at your fingertips, and so I think that could definitely play a role.’

Writing in the Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases in 2018, researchers commented that apps have also been linked to an increase in fluid sexuality, meaning infections can pass on from different groups of partners.

This chart shows 29 percent of total syphilis infections are now detected in gay men, compared to nearly 90 percent in the early 2000s

This chart shows 29 percent of total syphilis infections are now detected in gay men, compared to nearly 90 percent in the early 2000s

The researchers, including Dr Elizabeth Torrone at the CDC, said: ‘One hypothesis for the increasing rates among heterosexual populations is increased mixing between sexual networks.

‘An increasing number of men who have sex with both men and women serve as ‘bridges’ between gay men and heterosexual networks.’

Covid could also have played a role, experts said, with a surge in sexual activity after lockdowns leading to more transmission

Covid could also have played a role, experts said, with a surge in sexual activity after lockdowns leading to more transmission

THE COVID ‘HANGOVER’ CONTINUES 

The sudden return to socializing after the pandemic has led to a spike in sexually promiscuous behavior, experts say. 

Americans are spending more intimate moments together to ‘make up for lost time’.

And the monkeypox outbreak hit the US in 2022, which was linked to sexual activity at LGBT events, with more than 30,000 cases now diagnosed in the US to date. 

Dr Monica Gandhi, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told DailyMail.com: ‘We initially did have reduced STD rates in this country after lockdowns.

‘But there was also less testing and then there was a very clear rebound.

‘Testing rates were down, treatment rates were down, and that then fueled an epidemic.

‘Once Covid lockdowns were over, that led to a let’s get back to normal attitude and some sort of celebratory atmosphere, maybe — including having more sex.’

She added: ‘It is just not natural to tell people to stay away from each other — and so I think a lot of that response was compensatory.’

FIVE-FOLD INCREASE IN IV DRUG USE IN 7 YEARS

America’s opioid crisis has reached record levels, with an estimated 106,000 people now dying from overdoses every month. 

Since 2011, the number of people injecting drugs in the USA has risen to at least three million, according to Government data.  

Doctors say these individuals are more likely to engage in risky sexual activity — which could be to secure food or drugs.

They may also be reusing needles and other equipment which could have become contaminated with syphilis.

The CDC reported a link between a spike in syphilis cases and meth use in 2019.

Experts found between 2013 and 2017, the rate of syphilis cases in heterosexual men and women who also used methamphetamine or injectable drugs more than doubled.

Drugs were also implicated in another increase in syphilis in the 1990s, which experts said was linked to surges in crack cocaine use.

Falling condom use may also be behind the rise

Falling condom use may also be behind the rise

FEWER GAY MEN ARE USING CONDOMS 

Condoms have been around for decades in one form or another as a way to prevent pregnancy and, more recently, stop sexually transmitted diseases.

But in recent years they have fallen out of favor among younger groups. 

CDC data shows between 2011 and 2021, condom use declined from 75 percent of men studied to 42 percent. 

Dr Cherabie says one possible reason for this could be the advent of highly effective HIV prevention treatments, such as PrEP, which dramatically reduces the chances of contracting HIV.

The medications have led to a more ‘relaxed’ attitude to condom use among men who have sex with men, he adds. 

But doctors warn the removal of this barrier is making it easier for other sexually transmitted diseases, like syphilis, to spread.

It is not entirely clear why condom use has fallen among heterosexual people. However, some experts have suggested a reduction in sexual education resources, and the increasing unpopularity of the method could be to blame.

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  • Source of information and images “dailymail

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