Cases of major sexually transmitted infections rose to more than 2.5 million in 2021, U.S. health officials said in a revised final report, led by rates of syphilis that increased more than a third from a year earlier.
Rates of syphilis rose about 32% in 2021, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had said in a preliminary report last year that it expected a 26% increase. Cases among infants, who can become infected during pregnancy, also jumped by about a third, leading to 220 stillbirths and infant deaths in 2021. Such cases have risen every year in the past decade, according to the CDC. Congenital infections can cause severe disease in infants including bone deformities, blindness and loss of hearing.
Other sexually-transmitted infections also increased, with rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia each rising about 4% from 2020 to 2021. Chlamydia rates remain above pre-COVID levels, spurring concerns that screening for the often-asymptomatic disease was disrupted by the pandemic. Gay and bisexual men, as well as Black and American Indian communities, continue to be disproportionately impacted, the CDC found.
“The U.S. STI epidemic shows no signs of slowing,” Leandro Mena, CDC’s director of sexually transmitted disease prevention, said in a statement. “The reasons for the ongoing increases are multifaceted—and so are the solutions.”
Surging STI cases reinforce the need for accessible testing and treatment, as well as continued development for new vaccines and post-exposure medications, the CDC said.
“It will take many of us working together to effectively use new and existing tools, to increase access to quality sexual health care services for more people, and to encourage ongoing innovation and prioritization of STI prevention and treatment in this country,” Mena said.
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