Apr 12, 2022 - Health

STDs continued to surge during the pandemic: CDC

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Clinicians care for a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital on Aug. 10, 2021 in Louisiana. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The U.S. saw an increase in gonorrhea and syphilis cases during the first year of the pandemic, according to new data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Why it matters: The new data gives the "clearest picture yet" of the impact of COVID-19 on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S., the CDC noted in a press release.

By the numbers: Cases of gonorrhea rose 10% in 2020, up from their 2019 levels, which also represented a 45% increase from 2016.

  • Primary and secondary (p&s) syphilis cases increased 7% from 2019 levels. This also represented a 52% increase from 2016.
  • Congenital syphilis among newborns rose nearly 15% from 2019 levels, marking a 235% increase from 2016.
  • Chlamydia cases declined 13% from 2019.

The big picture: While STD cases initially declined during first months of the pandemic, they resurged by the end of 2020, with net increases in cases of gonorrhea, syphilis and congenital syphilis from 2019, according to the press release.

  • Although cases of chlamydia declined, this was likely due to decreased STD screenings during the pandemic causing an underdiagnosis of the ailment.
  • Disparities in STDS persisted, with 53% of reported cases in 2020 occurring among young people aged 15–24 years old, with additional disparities among certain minorities, per a CDC national overview, which noted the differences reflect unequal access to sexual health care.
  • Rates of congenital syphilis have "dramatically increased in the past five years," and 2020 saw 149 congenital syphilis-related stillbirths and infant deaths, the CDC said.

What they're saying: “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," Jonathan Mermin, Director of CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in a statement.

  • "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,” Leandro Mena, Director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, added in the press release.
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