Sexually transmitted disease rates in Rhode Island rose sharply between 2013 and 2014, and the state's department of health is pointing to hookup apps like Tinder as one of the driving forces behind new outbreaks.
The rise has been precipitous: Syphilis cases in Rhode Island increased by 79 percent between 2013 and 2014 while gonorrhea cases increased by 30 percent. Newly identified HIV cases increased by almost 33 percent, according to a new state report.
The rates didn't affect all groups equally. Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 were more likely than any other group to be infected with chlamydia and gonorrhea. Men who have sex with other men made up 75 percent of primary and secondary syphilis cases, the two most infectious stages.
While the Rhode Island Department of Health attributed some of the increase in STDs to better testing, the report also highlighted the role that high-risk sexual behaviors play in disease transmission:
High-risk behaviors include using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters, having sex without a condom, having multiple sex partners, and having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
"These new data underscore the importance of encouraging young people to begin talking to a doctor, nurse, or health educator about sexual health before becoming sexually active and especially after becoming sexually active," Rosemary Reilly-Chammat, an HIV/AIDS sexuality specialist with the Rhode Island Department of Education, said in a statement.
Representatives at Tinder, a well-known hookup app that's reportedly been downloaded by some 50 million users around the globe, did not respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post. But past studies had already highlighted a possible connection between social media hookups and sexually transmitted diseases. A 2013 New York University study linked Craigslist to a 16 percent increase in HIV cases between 1999 and 2008.
"Individuals are inclined to discount the future value of staying STD/HIV free and put high value on the instant gratification that casual sex offers," the researchers wrote.
Rising STD rates aren't unique to Rhode Island. Nationwide, syphilis cases increased by 10 percent between 2012 and 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though it's worth noting that nationwide cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea decreased slightly during the same period.
Even curable STDs, such as syphilis and gonorrhea, can have long-term consequences for sexual health. Approximately 24,000 women in the United States are likely to become infertile each year because of undiagnosed STDs, which are a major cause of pelvic inflammatory disease.
There are more deadly risks as well. According to the World Health Organization, being diagnosed with an STD is associated with a tripled risk of contracting HIV. Human papillomavirus, another sexually transmitted disease, causes 530,000 cervical cancer cases and 275,000 deaths worldwide each year. Mother-to-child STD transmissions carry additional risks for the baby, and can result in a host of health consequences, including stillbirth, neonatal death and birth defects.
As always, the best practice here is safer sex. Get tested for STDs and HIV. Ask your partner(s) about their sexual health status. Use a condom every time you have sex, as birth control pills do not prevent STDs. If you are diagnosed with an STD, follow the instructions of your healthcare provider and don't engage in sexual activity until your doctor says it's safe to do so.