Despite pandemic, STDs increase in Colorado and nationwide

Claire Cleveland

By Claire Cleveland / NewsBreak

(Denver, Colo.) Rates of sexually transmitted diseases increased during the pandemic in Colorado and nationally, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The COVID-19 pandemic put enormous pressure on an already strained public health infrastructure,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, Director of CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, in a statement.

“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.”

In Colorado, syphilis cases, which have been increasing for several years, shot up 30% in 2020. Gonorrhea increased in Colorado and nationally, while chlamydia decreased slightly, although health experts speculate the decrease is due to reduced screening rather than an actual reduction in cases.

The state collects data on sexually transmitted infections, but its data is only updated through 2019. That year, Colorado reported an increase in all three diseases. The new data from the CDC is the most comprehensive look so far at STDs during the pandemic.

Chlamydia

In Colorado, 26,137 people tested positive for chlamydia, or 453.9 cases per 100,000 people. In 2019, there were 517.4 cases per 100,000 people, an increase of 1.2% from 2018 and a nearly 20% increase from 2015, according to state and national data. The majority of chlamydia cases are among women between the ages of 15 and 24.

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea infected 9,686 people in 2020 in the state, or 168.2 cases per 100,000 people. That’s up from 166.1 cases per 100,000 in 2019, which was a 6% increase from 2018 and 106.6% increase from 2015, according to state and national data. More males test positive for this STI and it’s most common in people who are 20-29 years old.

Syphilis

In 2020, there were 1,785 cases of syphilis in Colorado, or 11.1 cases per 100,000 people, up 8.4 per 100,000 people in 2019. That was an increase of 42.5% from 2018 and 87.7% percent from 2015, according to state and national data. Males make up most cases, however the prevalence in females has been increasing over the last decade.

“The COVID-19 pandemic increased awareness of a reality we’ve long known about STDs. Social and economic factors – such as poverty and health insurance status – create barriers, increase health risks, and often result in worse health outcomes for some people,” said Dr. Leandro Mena, Director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, in a statement.

“If we are to make lasting progress against STDs in this country, we have to understand the systems that create inequities and work with partners to change them. No one can be left behind.”

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Claire Cleveland is a Denver-based freelance writer with a background in health and science reporting. She's covered the pandemic extensively and local news in Colorado. Previously, Claire was a reporter and producer for Colorado Public Radio.

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