The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released data indicating a 7% increase in reported sexually transmitted infection (STI) cases in 2021, totaling more than 2.5 million. Dr. Leandro Mena, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, warned that the US STI epidemic shows no signs of abating.
Chlamydia made up over half of the reported cases, with its rates rising by approximately 4% in 2021. Gonorrhea cases saw an increase of nearly 5%. In contrast, syphilis experienced a staggering 32% surge, including a significant rise in infections transmitted from pregnant mothers to their unborn babies. Congenital syphilis led to 220 stillbirths and infant deaths in 2021.
Dr. Mena emphasized that congenital syphilis is entirely preventable, noting that insufficient prevention measures among women of reproductive age and their partners are often to blame. Inadequate prenatal care and maternal treatment also contribute to the issue.
A recent study highlighted the growing difficulty for women to access reproductive health care services, such as routine screenings and birth control. Women in 2021 reported more challenges in accessing these services than in 2017.
The actual number of STI cases is likely much higher than reported, as screening and preventative care services continue to face obstacles. Dr. Mena identified several factors contributing to the overall increase in STI cases, with the pandemic exacerbating many of them. Lack of access to healthcare, including testing and treatment for STIs, makes it difficult for individuals to obtain necessary care. Reduced funding for public health and a deteriorating public health infrastructure have further limited access to testing-driven services.
Persistent stigma surrounding STIs and the lingering effects of pandemic-related disruptions hinder the effectiveness of screening services, leading to an underestimation of the actual number of cases. The CDC’s 2021 data shows that STI rates are disproportionately high among gay and bisexual men, younger individuals, and Black and American Indian populations.
Dr. Mena urged for tailored and localized interventions to address the STI epidemic, emphasizing the need to tackle the social and economic conditions that make it harder for certain populations to maintain their health.
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