Even in the first year of the pandemic, STD rates continued to climb in the US, CDC says
- The CDC reported 2.4 million STD cases in 2020, slightly less than in 2019.
- The CDC noted STD cases may have gone unreported and actually increased due to COVID-19 precautions.
- Chlamydia rates were down in the U.S., but gonorrhea and syphilis cases rose over 2020.
Cases of some sexually transmitted diseases rose in 2020 as the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected the amount of reported cases, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Tuesday, the CDC said reported cases of STDs declined during the first few months after the pandemic was declared in March 2020, then resurged later in the year.
In total, 2.4 million STD cases were reported in the U.S in 2020, slightly below the 2.5 million reported cases in 2019. However, some cases surpassed records set in 2019, and the CDC says it doesn't paint the full picture of the year as early trends showed the record was on pace to be broken.
COVID-19 "significantly affected trends in STDs during 2020 – resulting in likely underreporting of infections and possibly increased STD transmission. It’s likely that such effects will persist for several more years and we may never know the full impact of the pandemic on STDs. What is clear, however, is the state of STDs did not improve in the United States," the report reads.
The CDC says factors contributing to the decrease in cases in the early months of the pandemic were reduced and limited resources.
Many health care clinics closed or limited in-person visits to symptomatic STD patients, so asymptomatic patients probably weren't diagnosed or treated as the medical world shifted its focus to COVID-19. The agency added that the fear of being exposed to COVID-19 may have changed sexual behaviors while discouraging people from seeking care for STDs.
The pandemic altered the sex lives of millions throughout the world. A 2021 study noted 26% of single people reported more sex, while those in relationships were higher: 46% reported more sex.
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Chlamydia cases down
Chlamydia remained the most reported STD in the U.S., with 1.5 million cases reported to the CDC in 2020, and of those, 61% were reported in adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 24. Despite the high number of cases, data showed it was a 13% drop from 2019.
The agency added, however, that it may not tell the full story, because most cases of chlamydia are asymptomatic.
"Chlamydial infections are usually asymptomatic and identified through screening. Therefore, this decline is likely due to decreases in STD screening and underdiagnosis during the pandemic, rather than a reduction in new infections," the report reads.
Gonorrhea, syphilis cases rise
A total of 677,769 cases of gonorrhea were reported in 2020, making it the second most common STD in the U.S. That was a 5.7% jump from 2019 and a 111% jump since 2009. By the end of April 2020, the number of reported cases was already higher than 2019 trends.
Syphilis had a 6.8% jump in reported cases in 2020, with 133,945 cases in 2020. Since record lows in 2000-01, the number of syphilis cases has risen annually.
Congenital syphilis, a disease babies contract as a fetus inside the uterus, also saw an increase in cases, up 15% since 2019 and 235% since 2016. There were 2,148 cases of the disease in 2020, including 149 stillbirths and infant deaths related to congenital syphilis.
'America isn’t taking the STD crisis seriously'
The National Coalition of STD Directors said it was "deeply troubled" by the report, adding it showed government officials aren't taking the diseases seriously. In March, the coalition sent a letter to President Joe Biden about its funding concerns.
"This affirms once again that America isn’t taking the STD crisis seriously,” David C. Harvey, executive director of the national coalition,, said in a statement. "We can only fight this out-of-control epidemic with new funding and the kind of urgency that reflects the enormity of this crisis."
Harvey cited the dramatic rise of congenital syphilis, saying he can't imagine seeing the 235% increase since 2016 "and not having the federal government put a stop to it."
The CDC said the pandemic is still hindering STD program resources, and there "is no reason to believe we will be back to 'business as usual' with STD case reporting anytime soon."
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