Latest CDC Data Indicates Increases in STDs During First Year of COVID-19 Pandemic
According to data released this week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the U.S. decreased during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but most resurged by the end of that year. Ultimately, reported cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis surpassed 2019 levels, while chlamydia declined. The newly released data provide the clearest picture yet of COVID-19’s impact on the U.S. STD epidemic.
The 2020 STD Surveillance Report found that at the end of 2020:
- Reported cases of gonorrhea and primary and secondary syphilis were up 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively, compared to 2019
- Syphilis among newborns (i.e., congenital syphilis) also increased, with reported cases up nearly 15 percent from 2019 and 235 percent from 2016; early data indicate primary and secondary syphilis and congenital syphilis cases continued to increase in 2021, as well
- Reported cases of chlamydia declined 13 percent from 2019
Chlamydia historically accounts for the largest proportion of reported STDs in the U.S. The decline in reported chlamydia cases is likely due to decreased STD screening and underdiagnosis during the pandemic rather than a true reduction in new infections. This also contributed to an overall decrease in the number of reported STDs in 2020, from 2.5 million reported cases in 2019 to 2.4 million cases in 2020.
According to the CDC, several factors likely contributed to the initial decline in reported STD cases during the first part of 2020, including:
- Reduced frequency of in-person health care services as routine visits decreased, resulting in less-frequent STD screening
- Diversion of public health staff from STD work to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic
- STD test and laboratory supply shortages
- Lapses in health insurance coverage due to unemployment
- Telemedicine practices that led to some infections not being captured in national data
While STDs are increasing across many groups, the 2020 STD data indicate that some racial and ethnic minority groups, gay and bisexual men, and youth and young adults continue to experience higher rates of STDs. This trend shows that longstanding factors, such as lack of access to regular medical care, discrimination, and stigma, continue to be barriers to quality sexual health care services for all individuals in need. The CDC notes efforts must be prioritized and focused to regain lost group against STDs.
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