Syphilis cases in California jumped 18% from 2010 to 2011, according to new data released by the state Department of Public Health.
The data also show a 5% rise in chlamydia cases and 1.5% increase in gonorrhea cases.
Public health officials said they were concerned about the rise of all three sexually transmitted diseases because they can lead to even more serious health problems, like infertility and an increased risk of HIV.
“The longer people have these infections without being treated the more likely it is they are going to develop a complication that will have both health and financial costs,” said Heidi Bauer, chief of the Sexually Transmitted Disease Control Branch for the state public health agency.
Chlamydia affected the highest number of people statewide, with about 164,000 cases reported in 2011. There were 27,000 gonorrhea cases and about 2,500 syphilis cases.
State public health officials are trying to target certain populations in their effort to reduce the transmission of the diseases. Syphilis is most prevalent among men who have sex with men, and gonorrhea affects young black women at far higher rates than young white women.
The state cannot pinpoint a reason for the increase in sexually transmitted diseases, but Bauer said that individuals may be engaging in more risky behaviors and becoming more complacent about practicing safe sex. In addition, because the infections are asymptomatic, people are often unaware they have been infected and unknowingly transmit them to others.
The state is also concerned about the decrease in funding for local programs that provide sexually transmitted disease testing and clinical services. Many programs have been eliminated or seen their budgets cut, leading to less health education, follow-up and testing, Bauer said.