New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), increasingly called sexually transmitted infections or STIs, decreased at the beginning of the pandemic. By the end of 2020, however, most STDs had resurged. Gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis cases were higher than in 2019, while chlamydia cases decreased.
Data from 2021 shows that primary and secondary syphilis continued to increase from pre-pandemic years. Reported cases of chlamydia have steadily increased since 1984 until 2020 — when they decreased by nearly 13% from the year prior. Cases of syphilis among newborns (congenital syphilis) increased by nearly 15% from 2019 and most notably by 235% from 2016.
Which STD was most commonly reported during the pandemic?
Chlamydia was the most commonly reported STD in the US in 2021. The rate of cases increased by 3.9% compared to 2020. Compared to pre-pandemic levels, reported cases of chlamydia were lower in 2020 and 2021, likely due to a reduction in screening, according to the CDC.
HPV is the most common STD in the US, but most people with the infection have no symptoms, according to the CDC.
Who is at a higher risk of catching an STD?
Although STD rates are increasing across many groups, the data shows that racial and ethnic minority groups, gay and bisexual men, and young people in the US continue to experience higher rates of STDs. This suggests that barriers to quality sexual healthcare — such as lack of access to medical care, discrimination, and stigma — are still prevalent, according to the CDC.
The pandemic impacted STD reporting
The CDC says STD-related prevention and care activities were disrupted by the pandemic and had a profound impact on trends tracked by 2020 surveillance data. There was a reduction in STD screenings, caused by fewer in-person healthcare services as well as public health staff being diverted to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other factors that led to a decrease in reported cases are shortages in STD tests and laboratory supplies, lapses in health insurance coverage due to unemployment, and telemedicine practices that may not have captured all infections in national data.