TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — When it comes to health and infections, the United States has a growing problem that has nothing to do with the coronavirus – sexually transmitted infections, particularly gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia.
A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked all 50 states by how common different venereal, or sexually transmitted infections, are among state populations. The data also gave public health experts new insight into what happened during the pandemic, showing that some STI rates fell during the first months of 2020 but wound up surpassing pre-COVID levels by the end of the year.
While the data in the main CDC report is based on infections in 2020, preliminary data from 2021 shows the problem is not going away, instead, the health agency said some diseases, such as syphilis, were spreading.
In one alarming trend, cases of congenital syphilis, in which an infection passes from mother to baby during pregnancy, jumped 235% from 2016, the CDC noted. Health experts say the spike in cases was tied to mothers not receiving timely prenatal care or syphilis testing during the pandemic. While only 24 states reported at least one case of congenital syphilis during 2011, that number jumped to 47 in 2020.
These were the top 10 states for congenital syphilis in 2020:
|Rank||State||Cases||Rate per 100,000 live births|
Gonorrhea cases also rose 45% from 2016 through 2020, while syphilis cases rose 52%.
“Rates of reported gonorrhea have increased 111% since the historic low in 2009,” The CDC reported. “During 2019–2020, the overall rate of reported gonorrhea increased 5.7%.” They said the amount of reported cases had increased mainly among men from 2009 to 2013. The number of cases increased in 36 states, according to the CDC.
See the top 10 states when it came to gonorrhea rates in 2020:
|Rank||State||Cases||Rate per 100,000|
Chlamydia infections went down 1.2%, to 1.6 million cases across the U.S. since 2016, but that might not reflect an actual reduction in infections, according to the CDC.
“As chlamydial infections are usually asymptomatic, case rates are heavily influenced by screening coverage,” the report said. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, many health care clinics limited in-person visits to patients with symptoms or closed entirely, and it is likely that preventive health care visits where STD screening usually happens, such as annual reproductive health visits for young women, decreased.”
The CDC said the report “serves as a reminder that STDs remain a significant public health concern, even in the face of a pandemic.”
The increase of syphilis cases, despite a proven and effective method of both treatment and prevention, has caused the CDC concern. In 1999, the CDC reported it would be possible to “eliminate syphilis” within the whole of the country’s borders. The report noted the majority of infections at the time were in the South.
The trends reported more than 20 years ago still hold true, as shown by the number of Southern states in the top 10 for syphilis and congenital syphilis.
Following the CDC’s release of the data on April 12, some reactions to it were mixed, especially from advocates who were reviewing President Joe Biden’s budget plan.
The National Coalition of STD Directors, a national public health membership organization representing health department STI directors and their staff, urged the U.S. government to increase the CDC’s budget to assist in fighting the spread of the diseases in the report, among others.
“This affirms once again that America isn’t taking the STD crisis seriously,” David C. Harvey, executive director of NCSD, said. “We can only fight this out-of-control epidemic with new funding and the kind of urgency that reflects the enormity of this crisis.”
NCSD has tracked how COVID-19 affected the ability to track disease spread during in the U.S. during the pandemic. It’s a problem the CDC also acknowledged when publishing the STI surveillance data.
“In 2020, COVID-19 significantly affected STD surveillance and prevention efforts,” the CDC said. “This report reflects the realities of a strained public health infrastructure, while simultaneously providing the most current data on reported cases of STDs in the United States.”
NCSD said the challenges of the pandemic led to interruptions in testing and access to healthcare in communities fighting off STIs. They said the diseases impacted the young “deeply” and added to a “dramatic climb in congenital syphilis.” When the president released the budget plan for the coming fiscal year, the organization said keeping the CDC’s STI budget flat, or unchanged, would not help to address the upward trend of infections in the U.S.
Editor’s note: The terms STI and STD sound similar, and some health organizations -like the CDC – use them interchangeably.
Technically, however, STIs and STDs are different.
Sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, are infections that have not yet developed into diseases, and can include bacteria, viruses, or parasites.
Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, on the other hand, are diseases that result from STIs, and therefore suggest a more serious problem. All STDs start out as infections.