Even as the COVID-19 pandemic kept people isolated at home, sexually transmitted disease (STDs) cases increased across the United States.
Although cases fell in the pandemic’s early months, infections rose again by the end of 2020, with gonorrhea, syphilis and congenital syphilis surpassing 2019 levels, according to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
“STDs have been increasing now for maybe seven years in a row,” says Dr. Leandro Mena, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention.
“These increases have roots in a decrease in funding public health, which has affected health departments’ ability to provide screening, treatment, prevention and partner services,” he adds.
Increased substance use, which is linked to social practices and socioeconomic conditions making it difficult to access services, also plays a role, Mena shares.
The new 2020 STD Surveillance Report, released April 12, found that at the end of 2020:
- Cases of gonorrhea and primary and secondary syphilis rose 10% and 7%, respectively, compared with 2019.
- Syphilis among newborns, called congenital syphilis, also rose by nearly 15% from 2019, and 235% from 2016. Primary and secondary syphilis and congenital syphilis cases continued to rise in 2021.
- Cases of chlamydia dropped by 13% from 2019.
Chlamydia accounts for the largest proportion of reported STDs. Researchers suspect the reported drop in cases owes to reduced STD screening and underdiagnosis during the pandemic, and not a true reduction in new infections. The decline in reported chlamydia cases contributed to a drop in the number of reported STDs in 2020 — from 2.5 million cases in 2019 to 2.4 million in 2020.
Increased rates in teens
The highest rates of new STIs were seen among gay and bisexual men and teens, the CDC reports. Too few sexually active teens are getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the study shows.
In all, just 20% of sexually active high school students said they were tested for an STD — now called sexually transmitted infections (STIs) — in the past year, according to researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The prevalence of sexually active high school students getting tested for an STI in the past year is