Despite a slowdown in dating due to mandatory lockdowns, isolation, and quarantines, sexually transmitted diseases were on the rise in the U.S. during the first year of the pandemic in 2020, with several surpassing 2019 levels, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC’s 2020 STD Surveillance Report showed that cases of gonorrhea were up 10% in 2020 compared to 2019, and primary and secondary cases of syphilis were up 7% during the same timeframe.
States that saw the highest number of cases of gonorrhea included Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, and Oklahoma, respectively. Vermont had the least gonorrhea infections reported, followed by New Hampshire and Maine.
Cases of syphilis also ranked high in Nevada, Mississippi, Alaska, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, while infections of syphilis were low in Vermont, Wyoming, Maine, and Idaho.
The CDC’s report also indicated that congenital syphilis among newborns was up nearly 15% from 2019, with high case counts reported in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. States with no congenital syphilis infections reported included Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
While STDs were on the rise for gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis during the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, cases of chlamydia actually declined by 13% during this time period.
According to the CDC, chlamydia historically makes up the largest portion of reported STDs in the U.S., but the agency attributed the decline in infections to decreased STD screenings and underdiagnosis during the pandemic rather than a reduction in the number of cases.
The number of chlamydia cases dropped from 2.5 million reported infections in 2019 to 2.4 million in 2020, according to the agency.
States with the most reported chlamydia cases included Mississippi, Louisiana, Alaska, South Carolina, and North Carolina, while West Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont reported a low number of chlamydia infections in 2020, the CDC said.
The declining STD infections were due to a series of factors during the pandemic, the CDC said, including reduced in-person healthcare service, such as routine doctor visits, public healthcare diverted toward COVID care and away from STD projects, shortages of STD tests and lab supplies, health insurance coverage lapses from unemployment, and telemedicine use that prevented proper national STD reporting.
“The COVID-19 pandemic put enormous pressure on an already strained public health infrastructure,” Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in a statement.
“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,” he added.