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STD levels have escalated during the pandemic reaching a new high. Covid-19 made a bad situation exponentially worse as clinics closed, people lost health insurance and risky behavior surged.
Syphilis infections jumped 32 percent in 2021 to more than 176,000 – the highest total since 1950.
Overall, the CDC found a record 2.5 million reported cases of STDs — yet public health officials say that is likely an undercount with access to testing disrupted by Covid-19.
“There are no signs the [sexually transmitted infections] epidemic is slowing,” Leandro Mena, the director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in an interview, describing the new data as “jarring.”
Progress combating HIV also stalled during the pandemic, with access to testing and treatment widely disrupted. Some parts of the country, including San Francisco, saw HIV rates increase for the first time in nearly a decade. The majority of new HIV infections are in the American south — home to 7 of the 10 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. And we expect this will only get worse as millions are kicked off Medicaid now that the government has declared the Public Health Emergency "over."
Sexual health experts and government officials are warning that without federal action, millions of Americans could face serious, even fatal, consequences if infections go untested and untreated, with the burden of disease disproportionately falling on low-income Americans, young people and people of color.
“Unfortunately all signs indicate that the numbers are getting worse and that they’re not going to get better until we adopt some new approaches and invest further in STD and public health programs,” said David Harvey, the executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors. “We have a lot of work to even get back to where we were pre-pandemic.”
Over the last two years, the pandemic forced sexual health clinics across the country to close their doors or cut back their hours and services. Government disease investigators who had spent years contact-tracing for STDs were reassigned to Covid work, and many quit the public health field entirely. Federal agencies saw widespread shortages of testing supplies. Millions of people lost their jobs and, with them, their health insurance. And a surge in addiction and mental health problems contributed to riskier behavior, such as trading sex for drugs, seeking out anonymous sex and skipping routine health care.
The growing STD crisis costs the American health system billions every year.
The rampant spread of STDs, which affect one in five Americans, is only expected to increase, and local health departments, stretched to a breaking point by the pandemic, are ill-equipped to mount an effective defense.
Despite all this, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor made the decision to toss out the requirements for insurance companies to cover the HIV prevention drug PrEP and to offer a range of preventive services — from syphilis tests to depression screenings — at no cost. And while the Biden administration is appealing the ruling, many worry it won’t fare any better before conservative-leaning judges in the higher courts.
If O’Connor’s ruling is upheld, the roughly 168 million people with private health insurance plans could be hit with new charges for PrEP, STD testing and other preventive care.
“Anything that hinders health care access, especially for marginalized communities, will end up in fewer people being on PrEP, and more people getting HIV,” warned Demetre Daskalakis, the director of HIV prevention at the CDC who also spearheaded the Biden administration’s Mpox campaign. “And then really, in that scenario, there’s no going back.”(Politico, 4-11-23)
As more and more people have to pay for their own STD screening, the chances are high that they will just skip it. Numerous studies show that people often skip STD services when they aren’t free, resulting in increasing levels of STD infection.
In conclusion, it's more important now than ever to look out for your sexual health and safety.
STDs are at record levels. It could get much worse. (Politico, 4-11-23)