Sexually transmitted disease (STD) cases soared across the United States as the COVID-19 pandemic kept individuals at home.
According to a new CDC analysis, while gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis declined in the early months of the pandemic, infections surged again by the end of 2020, surpassing 2019 levels for gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis.
As reported by US News, Dr. Leandro Mena, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said, “STDs have been increasing for maybe seven years.”
“These increases result from a reduction in public health financing, which has harmed health departments’ ability to deliver screening, treatment, preventive, and partner services,” he continued.
Mena believes that increased substance use is linked to social practices and socioeconomic situations that make it difficult to get treatment.
According to the latest 2020 STD Surveillance Report, which was released on April 12, by the end of 2020:
- Cases of gonorrhea and primary and secondary syphilis rose 10% and 7%, respectively, compared with 2019.
- Syphilis among newborns, congenital syphilis, also rose by nearly 15% from 2019 and 235% from 2016. Primary and secondary syphilis and congenital syphilis cases continued to grow in 2021.
- Cases of chlamydia dropped by 13% from 2019.
The most common STD is chlamydia, which accounts for most reported cases. Researchers believe that the observed decrease in incidence is due to decreased STD screening and underdiagnosis during the pandemic rather than an actual decrease in new infections. The reduction in reported chlamydia infections contributed to the decline in the number of STD cases registered in 2020, from 2.5 million in 2019 to 2.4 million in 2020.
Several variables, according to the researchers, contributed to the decrease in STD cases in the first half of 2020, including:
- Less screening.
- Public health workers are sidelined to work on COVID-19.
- Shortages of STD tests and lab supplies.
- Lapses in health insurance caused by unemployment.
- A surge in telemedicine resulted in less frequent screening and left some infections unreported.
According to the CDC, gay and bisexual men and teens had the highest incidence of new STIs.
“People younger than 24 years old account for more than half of all STD cases,” Mena said.
He said that several entities, including local
l health departments, will have to work together to combat the rising STD epidemic.
“Community-based groups are unique to respond to rising STD trends and can play a crucial role in motivating people to prioritize their sexual health,” Mena added. “By including STD prevention and social health into normal practices and fostering inviting environments for all persons, health care practitioners can play a role in reducing stigma.”
The most crucial measure, according to Mena, is to get tested for STDs at least once a year, especially if you’re a sexually active teen or participate in unsafe sex with several partners.
Dr. David Rosenthal, medical director of Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Great Neck, N.Y.’s Center for Young Adult, Adolescent, and Pediatric HIV, said his clinic is aware of STD infections.
“We’re seeing a clinical increase in them,” he said. “At least in my experience, after we went through 2020 or mid-2021, we started noticing an increase clinically.”
According to Rosenthal, the number of persons seeking STD testing is increasing.
“We must keep doing everything we can to proactively discover new STDs and ensure that we can identify them before they spread to other people and ensure that we can prevent STIs and HIV transmission wherever feasible,” he said.
According to Rosenthal, barrier methods, such as condoms or female condoms, are best to avoid STDs.
“The second aspect is that we need to make sure that we routinely test persons, particularly adolescents, for STDs,” he said.