(ORDO NEWS) — The number of reported cases of many types of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) has increased in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an official report released Tuesday.
According to Jonathan Mermin, a physician and senior officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) who is the author of the report, the pandemic has exacerbated a major trend in STDs over the past decade, which is to blame for cuts in health care funding.
Reported cases of gonorrhea and primary and secondary syphilis rose by 10 and 7 percent, respectively, compared to 2019.
Syphilis among newborns, known as congenital syphilis, has also increased, with reported cases up nearly 15 percent from 2019 and 235 percent from 2016. According to preliminary data, the number of cases of primary and secondary syphilis, as well as congenital syphilis, will continue to grow in 2021.
The number of reported cases of chlamydia has dropped by 13% since 2019, but experts suspect this is misleading, as the disease is often asymptomatic and detected during screening, such as routine pap smears.
Overall, there were 2.4 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.
COVID-19 “came at a very difficult time to fight STIs,” Mermin told reporters during a phone call.
“We already had a strained, collapsing public health infrastructure. There are no dedicated STI clinics in many US communities. This has exacerbated an already growing trend.”
“The consequences of congenital syphilis are the most serious,” he added. “They include lifelong physical and mental health problems, miscarriage or stillbirth.”
Reported cases of venereal disease first declined in the early months of 2020 when indoor spaces forced people to withdraw from society, but they rebounded towards the end of the year.
Among the factors that caused the surge in incidence are a decrease in the frequency of face-to-face medical care, which led to a decrease in the number of screenings; diverting healthcare workers from STD work to respond to the COVID pandemic; lack of STD tests and laboratory materials; and lack of health insurance due to unemployment.
Leandro Mena, another senior CDC official, added that social and economic factors such as poverty and insurance status have led to worse outcomes for STDs.
More than half of reported cases of STDs occur in young people aged 16 to 24 years. Racial minorities, including blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, are disproportionately affected, and 42 percent of cases of primary and secondary syphilis occur in gay and bisexual men.
Public funding for local sexual health clinics has been declining for several years, and data has shown that the hardest-hit states are often also the least economically developed, such as Mississippi.
About half of gonorrhea cases are estimated to have been resistant to at least one antibiotic, but the CDC does not believe that antibiotic resistance is currently responsible for the increase in cases.
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