STDs increased in first year of COVID-19 pandemic, CDC report finds

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Cases of several sexually transmitted diseases increased in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released this week.

The number of reported cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and congenital syphilis exceeded 2019 levels, while chlamydia declined, according to a press release on the health report.

The federal health agency said the number of STD cases initially fell during the first months of the pandemic in 2020 – but rose again later in the year.

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“There were times in 2020 when it felt like the world was coming to a standstill, but STDs weren’t. The relentless momentum of the STD epidemic continued even as disease prevention services MST were discontinued.” Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC’s National Center for the Prevention of HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STDs and Tuberculosis, said in the CDC statement.

The report states that the number of reported cases of gonorrhea increased by 10%, while primary and secondary syphilis (P&S) increased by 7% compared to 2019. Congenital syphilis also increased by 15% compared to 2019 and 235% from 2016, the federal health agency said. The CDC said early data showed cases of primary and secondary syphilis and congenital syphilis also continued to rise in 2021.

Cases of several sexually transmitted diseases increased in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a CDC report.
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The federal health agency said 2020 STD data showed groups that continued to experience higher rates of STDs included young Americans; gay and bisexual men; and certain racial and ethnic minority groups. The CDC found lack of access to consistent medical care, stigma, and discrimination as possible reasons contributing to this trend.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of a long-known reality about STDs. Social and economic factors – such as poverty and health insurance status – create barriers, increase health risks and often lead to poorer health for some people,” Dr. Leandro Mena, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in the statement. “If we are to make lasting progress against MST in this country, we need to understand the systems that create inequalities and work with partners to change them. No one can be left behind.”

While many sexually transmitted diseases have increased, the number of reported cases of chlamydia has decreased by 13% compared to 2019, according to the report. Underdiagnosis and decreased testing for STDs during the pandemic may be the reason for this trend, rather than a decline in new infections, the CDC statement explained.

The CDC said the number of STD cases initially declined during the first months of the pandemic in 2020 — but rebounded later in the year.

The CDC said the number of STD cases initially declined during the first months of the pandemic in 2020 — but rebounded later in the year.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has placed tremendous pressure on an already strained public health infrastructure,” Mermin said in the statement.

The strain likely contributed to several factors that led to the initial drop in reported STD cases during the first part of 2020, according to the report, citing the following factors:

  • Reduced frequency of in-person health care services as routine visits decreased, resulting in less frequent STD screening;
  • Diversion of public health personnel from STD work to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • shortages of STD tests and laboratory supplies;
  • Interruptions in health insurance coverage due to unemployment; and
  • Telemedicine practices that resulted in some infections not being captured in national data.

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The CDC said a group effort is needed to regain lost ground in STD prevention.

This effort would involve community organizations; public health workers; local health care systems and clinics; and health care providers in the public and private sectors, all to help rebuild and expand STD prevention and control in the United States, the federal agency reported.

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