More than 2.5 million cases of sexually transmitted infections were reported in 2021, up 7% year on year, according to new data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The STI epidemic in the US is showing no signs of slowing down,” the doctor said. Leandro Mena, Director of STD Prevention, CDC.
Chlamydia accounts for more than half of reported cases, with rates up about 4% in 2021. Cases of gonorrhea rose by almost 5%.
Cases of syphilis have risen 32% in one year, including an alarming rise in infections transmitted from pregnant mothers to babies developing in the womb. In 2021, congenital syphilis was responsible for 220 stillbirths and infant deaths.
“The most important thing to remember is that congenital syphilis is 100% preventable,” Mena said. “This is largely a result of our failure to prevent syphilis in women of reproductive age and their partners.”
Lack of prenatal care and proper maternal treatment are among the most common missed opportunities to prevent congenital syphilis, he said.
But a recent report found that in recent years it has become harder for women to access reproductive health services, such as routine screenings and birth control. Women accessing reproductive health services were more likely to report access problems—and there were more—in 2021 than in 2017.
A combination of factors have contributed to the overall increase in STI cases, Mena said, and the pandemic has exacerbated many of them.
“Lack of access to health care, including testing and treatment for STIs, can make it difficult for people to get the care they need,” Mena said. “Cutting public health funding and a crumbling public health infrastructure are indeed limiting access to testing-based services.”
The persistent stigma associated with STIs and the lingering effects of pandemic-related disruptions are making it difficult to scale up screening services. The number of reported STIs is likely to greatly underestimate the “staggering” number of actual cases, he said.
STIs affect every population, but 2021 CDC data shows that rates are disproportionately high among gay and bisexual men, young adults, and blacks and American Indians.
“To make progress in ending this STI epidemic, we need to really meet people where they are, by developing tailored and localized interventions that will make the biggest impact,” Mena said. “We want to make sure we take into account the social and economic conditions that make it difficult for some of these populations to stay healthy.”