Cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis continued to increase in 2021, with more than 2.5 million sexually transmitted infections (STI) recorded, the CDC said this week.
Its latest report shows syphilis rates increasing nearly 32% with congenital syphilis cases growing by what it describes as an alarming 32%, resulting in 220 stillbirths and infant deaths.
There were 101,590 syphilis cases in 2017, compared to 176,713 in 2021. There were 941 congenital syphilis cases in 2017 and 2,855 in 2021, more than three times as many.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia cases grew about 4% in 2021, but the CDC is concerned that chlamydia reports are still being impacted by the disruption in screening since the pandemic because chlamydia is often asymptomatic.
“The U.S. STI epidemic shows no signs of slowing,” said Leandro Mena, MD, MPH, Director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention. “The reasons for the ongoing increases are multifaceted – and so are the solutions. For the first time in decades, we’re seeing promising new STI interventions on the horizon, but these alone will not solve this epidemic.
“It will take many of us working together to effectively use new and existing tools, to increase access to quality sexual healthcare services for more people, and to encourage ongoing innovation and prioritization of STI prevention and treatment in this country.”
While STIs are common across the country and groups, the CDC said it is disproportionately striking gay and bisexual men, younger people as well as Black and Native Americans. In 2020 more than half of all sexually transmitted diseases (STD) were among adolescents and young adults 15 to 24, according to the CDC.
To stem the tide, CDC suggests expanding local public health services, including testing and treatment; making testing and treatment more accessible, and encouraging research on vaccines and post-exposure prophylaxis.
STIs and STDs had been on the rise prior to the pandemic, with the CDC previously estimating that in 2018 1 in 5 people had an STD.
The CDC’s annual update on STI prevalence coincides with STD Awareness Month each April.