(WWTI) — Although sexually transmitted diseases in the United States decreased in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, data shows the trend did not continue throughout the end of 2020.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, data showed that reported cases of gonorrhea, syphilis and congenital syphilis surpassed 2019 levels, while chlamydia declined. Specifically, the 2020 STD Surveillance Report found that at the end of 2020 reported cases of gonorrhea and primary and secondary syphilis were up 10% and 7%.
Additionally, syphilis among newborns also increased, with reported cases up nearly 15% from 2019, and 235% from 2016. Reported cases of chlamydia declined 13% from 2019.
Despite the decline in chlamydia cases, according to the CDC, the decrease is likely due to decreased STD screening and underdiagnosis during the pandemic, rather than a reduction in new infections. The CDC also highlighted that the decrease contributed to an overall decrease in the number of reported STDs in 2020 which could have been skewed due to those factors.
Other factors that could’ve contributed to the initial decline in reported STD cases during the first part of 2020 according to the CDC include the reduced amount of healthcare visits, diversion of health staff to COVID-19 cases, and STD tests and laboratory supply shortages. They also listed lapses in health insurance coverage due to unemployment and telemedicine practices that led to some infections not being captured in national data as contributing factors.
Director of CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H hihglighted the effect the pandemic had on health systems and how it impacted the STD epidemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic put enormous pressure on an already strained public health infrastructure,” Mermin said. “There were moments in 2020 when it felt like the world was standing still, but STDs weren’t. The unrelenting momentum of the STD epidemic continued even as STD prevention services were disrupted.”
While STDs are increasing across many groups, the 2020 STD data show that some racial and ethnic minority groups, gay and bisexual men, and our nation’s youth continue to experience higher rates of STDs. The trend showed that longstanding factors, such as lack of access to regular medical care, discrimination, and stigma, continue to stand in the way of quality sexual healthcare for everyone who needs it.
According to the CDC, preventing a future increase in STDs will require many groups working together, including local healthcare systems, clinics, and community-based organizations; public and private sectors, health care providers; and public health workers. More information about STDs and the study can be found here.