HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases dropped early in the pandemic before rising higher than 2019 levels more recently.
At the beginning of 2020, most of the focus in health care and for Pennsylvanians was on the COVID pandemic.
“People just weren’t paying attention or weren’t getting tested because it wasn’t at the top of their mind,” said Sam Bobila, chief external affairs officer of Planned Parenthood Keystone.
The CDC says that’s likely why STD cases initially dropped as people made fewer routine visits to the doctor.
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“It should be kind of par for the course and your regular health routine. It’s a part of self-care, right?” Bobila said.
But the drop didn’t last long after the pandemic started, however. In 2020, over half of the reported cases of STDs were among young people 15 to 24 years old. Data also shows some racial and ethnic minority groups and gay and bisexual men continue to experience higher rates of STDs.
“More of our folks are coming in to get tested regularly which is a good thing, and it shouldn’t scare people to get tested. But because we’re seeing so many people come and get tested, we’re seeing the numbers skyrocket,” said Anthony Hall, community engagement specialist with GLO Harrisburg. GLO Harrisburg serves LGBTQ+ men of color and trans women of color.
“There is no gender, sexuality, or religion that will keep you from a viral infection, so it’s important that everyone come and get tested,” Hall said.
The CDC reported cases of gonorrhea and primary & secondary syphilis were up 10% and 7%, respectively, compared to 2019.
Syphilis among newborns (i.e., congenital syphilis) also increased, with reported cases up nearly 15% from 2019 and 235% from 2016. Early data indicate primary and secondary syphilis and congenital syphilis cases continued to increase in 2021 as well.
Reported cases of chlamydia declined 13% from 2019. The decline in reported chlamydia cases is likely due to decreased STD screening and underdiagnosis during the pandemic rather than a reduction in new infections. This also contributed to an overall decrease in the number of reported STDs in 2020 (from 2.5 million reported cases in 2019 to 2.4 million in 2020).
“When you know your status, you can take better care of yourself and your sexual partners,” Bobila said.
Planned Parenthood offers testing in Harrisburg.
“If you have something that’s untreated, your health really is at risk, so we really encourage folks just to go and get tested. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. Everyone gets tested,” Bobila said.