Over the last several years Covid-19 has rightly occupied the lion’s share of public health attention. Meanwhile, other public health diseases and conditions have continued to proliferate. The CDC reported in April 2022 that decreased rates of many sexually transmitted diseases, STDs, found in the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, resurged by the end of the same year. 2020 saw a 7 to 10 percent increase in all but one STD over the preceding year. Gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis are have risen over the same time span. Only chlamydia showed a decline of about 13 percent.
The bad news continued as the 2020 STD Surveillance Report outlined that syphilis among newborns, also called congenital syphilis, had increased almost 15 percent from 2019 to 2020, and the increase from 2016 was a stunning 235 percent. The study stated that early data for years after 2020 is not pointing to a slow down in rates.
The report also outlined that the decline in chlamydia cases was most likely due to under reporting as chlamydia screenings were down during the pandemic, and the lower chlamydia cases represents an overall decrease in total STDs in 2020 over 2019. Monitoring of HIV cases in the U.S. was also a causality of the pandemic.
The report further explains the many factors which could account for the declining rate from 2019 to 2020. Chiefly, the reduction of in-person healthcare services such as routine visits decreased the opportunity for adequate testing. Clearly, the focus toward all issues related to Covid-19 drained the resources of public health staffing from what is typically a standard function of public health, sexually transmitted disease.
Another hurdle to overcome was a nationwide shortage of STD test and laboratory shortages. The proliferation of tele-health care was crucial for many but was no replacement for in-person testing for those at risk of STDs. Finally, many individuals lost employment due to Covid-19 and therefore lost their health insurance making screening and treatment difficult to acquire.
As with many health conditions, certain groups are often identified as higher risk. High-risk groups include younger individuals, certain racial and minority groups, gay and bisexual men, and many groups that have barriers to adequate health care because of poverty and lack of health insurance.
Most efforts within public health programs both at the state and national level strive to use a multi-pronged approach to help bring the incidence of STDs down. Education, increased testing, and promoting available vaccines for certain strains of sexually transmitted infections have all been proven to impact rates. Education includes making individuals aware of the steps they can take to personally protect themselves and their sexual partners.
The most reliable way to avoid STD is to abstain from sex. In the absence of abstinence, mutual monogamy where each partner agrees to only have sex with one another can greatly reduce the transmission of disease. Reducing the number of sexual partners can also reduce your chances of getting a STD. Finally, the proper and consistent use of a male latex condom has shown to be a highly effective way to reduce STD transmission.
Another chief tool to slowing or reversing the rates of sexually transmitted diseases is surveillance. Reliable and timely testing can allow for appropriate treatment and cure. Making a partner or partners aware of your infection can help to make sure they receive appropriate treatment and reduce the chance of further transmission. Luckily, many STDs are easily treated once discovered early.
The adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is appropriate for several types of sexually transmitted viral infections including human papillomavirus or HPV, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B. Vaccines against these three types of viruses can greatly reduce one’s chance of acquiring these infections. All these infections can lead to life-altering illnesses, including certain cancers and even death.
Making strides to reduce the spread of sexual transmitted diseases will take a concerted effort by both public and private organizations to educate individuals and provide sufficient resources to provide the necessary testing, treatments, and prevention. If you have questions about your risk for sexually transmitted infections, consult with your personal physician or reach out to your local public health department.