By Jared Acosta
According to a new Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report issued on April 12, 2022, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) in the U.S. rose sharply during the height of Covid-19 in 2020. The U.S. saw 2.4 million STD cases in 2020. While that number seems to be an improvement over the 2.6 million cases in 2019, the CDC credits this to a lack of diagnosis due to decreased testing and a diversion of resources to battle the pandemic. STD reported cases in the U.S. appeared to decline in the first few months of 2020, before Covid-19 lockdowns. However, data shows that cases continued to increase throughout the remainder of the year.
According to CDC findings, "Jurisdictions reported more than 2,100 cases of congenital syphilis, an increase of almost 15 percent since 2019 and a 235 percent increase since 2016. Gonorrhea and primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis cases increased by 10 percent and 7 percent from 2019 to 2020, while reported cases of chlamydia declined by 13 percent. However, chlamydial infections are usually asymptomatic and identified through screening." The CDC blames a decrease in STD screening and under diagnosis as opposed to a reduction in cases. The report stated that certain groups, including racial and ethnic minorities, gay and bisexual men, and youth remain at higher risk of infection.
The CDC lists the following reasons for the decrease in reported cases:
- Reduced screening at healthcare clinics, facility closures, and CDC guidance to prioritize diagnosis and treatment of syphilis and gonorrhea cases:
- Limited resources, including shortages of STD test kits and laboratory supplies and health department staff shifting to COVID-19 work (affecting STD contact tracing and reporting);
- Enforced stay-at-home orders that may have delayed routine healthcare visits;
- Increased unemployment resulting in a lapse of health insurance coverage for many; and
- Increased use of telemedicine practices to treat symptomatic patients without a confirmed laboratory test result.
"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. 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."
– Leandro Mena, MD, MPH, Director, CDC's Division of STD Prevention