After a dip in the early months of the pandemic, STDs are on the rise again

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Reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases dropped during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, but they’re back.

Most resurged by the end of that year, providing the clearest picture yet of COVID-19’s impact on the U.S. STD epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In all, reported cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis surpassed 2019 levels, while chlamydia declined, according to new data by the CDC.

The 2020 STD Surveillance Report found that at the end of that year reported cases of gonorrhea and primary & secondary (P&S) syphilis were up 10% and 7%, respectively, compared to 2019.

Syphilis among newborns – congenital syphilis – also increased, with reported cases up nearly 15% from 2019, and 235% from 2016. Early data indicate from 2021 show syphilis continued to increase.

Reported cases of chlamydia declined 13% from 2019.

“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. “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.”

Chlamydia historically accounts for the largest proportion of reported STDs in the United States. The decline in reported chlamydia cases is likely due to decreased STD screening and underdiagnosis during the pandemic, rather than a reduction in new infections.

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. This trend shows 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.

“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,” said Dr. Leandro Mena, M.D., director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention. “No one can be left behind.”

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