Before you “git yo’ freak on” with somebody you’ve just met, ponder this: in 2019, yearly cases of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) in the U. S. continued their rise—reaching an all-time high for the sixth year in a row.
According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Gay/SGL (same-gender-loving) males, African-Americans, and young people had disproportionately high rates of infection. And here’s the rub: these latest stats don’t take into consideration the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Late last year, when I had a telehealth appointment with my PCP (primary care physician), I learned about this marked increase in STIs. He asked, “Wyatt, are you having sex during the pandemic?” Because the question sort of came out of left field, I was a bit taken aback.
I chuckled, “No…but I really wanna!” Next, I added, “However, I’m not…due to the pandemic. I don’t wanna swap spit, and have someone breathing all over me.”
Doc replied, “Well, that’s good because STI rates are simply through the roof right now.”
I was like…floored! Flabbergasted.
Well, according to “Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2019,” a CDC report, more than 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis—the three most common reported STIs—were reported in 2019. This is a nearly 30 percent increase from 2015.
Let’s drill down and examine exactly how high the rates of these most common infections have risen, percentage-wise, since 2015:
Chlamydia. 1.8 million cases, up 19%.Cases increased among both men and women, in all racial/ethnic groups, and all regions of the country.
Gonorrhea. 616,392 cases, up 56%. Males experienced a higher rate, with a greater increase (61%) than women (44%). What’s so troubling is that in over half of the cases, gonorrhea was resistant to at least one antibiotic.
Syphilis. 129,813 cases, up 74%. Cases also climbed among both men and women, and in all racial/ethnic groups and geographic regions. Gay/SGL and bisexual men accounted for a majority (57%) of cases.
Raul Romaguera (DMD, MPH), acting director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, stated, “Less than 20 years ago, gonorrhea rates in the U.S. were at historic lows, syphilis was close to elimination, and advances in chlamydia diagnostics made it easier to detect infections.” He added, “That progress has since unraveled, and our STD defenses are down. We must prioritize and focus our efforts to regain this lost ground and control the spread of STDs.”
According to Poz.com, “Although all these STIs are treatable, they can have serious health consequences if left untreated. While many people don’t have early symptoms, STIs can ultimately cause pelvic inflammatory disease, lead to infertility and result in pregnancy complications and infant death. Some STIs also increase the risk of HIV acquisition.”
Many individuals remain undiagnosed; and, not all STIs are mandated to be reported. Therefore, the actual number of cases is significantly higher than those figures of infection indicate. In 2018, for instance, a CDC analysis found that one in five persons in the U.S. had one of these three STIs—along with HIV, hepatitis B, genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and trichomoniasis.
And as the STD rates continue to swell overall, some groups are getting harder hit than others. Gay/SGL and bi men were up to 42 times more likely than heterosexual men to be diagnosed with gonorrhea and accounted for nearly half of primary and secondary syphilis in 2019. That analysis pointed out that most likely, these disparities are not attributable to differences in sexual behavior across ages and racial/ethnic groups. But rather, they reflect differential access to quality sexual health care and variations in the characteristics of sexual networks. For example, in communities that experience a higher STI infection rate, there is a greater chance that an individual will cross paths with a sexual partner who carries an STI.
“Focusing on hard-hit populations is critical to reducing disparities,” said Jo Valentine, MSW, associate director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention’s Office of Health Equity. “To effectively reduce these disparities, the social, cultural and economic conditions that make it more difficult for some populations to stay healthy must be addressed,” she emphasized. “These include poverty, unstable housing, drug use, lack of medical insurance or [a] regular medical provider and high burden of STDs in some communities.”
And according to Poz.com, “During the COVID-19 crisis, many people may have had less sex while taking precautions to avoid contracting the coronavirus.But at the same time, medical services, including STI and HIV screening, treatment and partner services, have been curtailed, which could push rates higher. In fact, the reduction in STI services preceded the pandemic.”
According to “Sexually Transmitted Infections,” a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, COVID-19 “has exposed weaknesses in public health preparedness due to weak infrastructure, an under-capacitated and under-resourced workforce and limited surge capacity.” Preliminary data suggest that in 2020, many of these disturbing trends continued.
“STDs will not wait for the pandemic to end, so we must rise to the challenge now,” Romaguera said. “These new data should create a sense of urgency and mobilize the resources needed so that future reports can tell a different story.”
Mr. Evans has reported and written for print and on line media outlets including the HuffingtonPost, The Washington Post, The Advocate, Bilerico, BaltimoreOUTloud, Washington Post, Baltimore Gay Life and the Washington Blade. His series of articles on issues such as Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse (IPV/A), Relationships, Depression, and Racism strongly resonate with the LGBTQ Community and its Allies.
To read his work for HUFF PO, visit: https://huffingtonpost.com/wyatt-obrian-evans/
Mr. Evans has written an in-depth, multi-part and award-winning series on racism within the LGBTQ Community for Bilerico..
To have Mr. Evans write for your media outlet and organization also, please contact him using our contact form.