March 16, 2023 – Sexually transmitted disease cases rose again in the second year of the pandemic, according to newly released preliminary data from the CDC.
The U.S. tallied 2.5 million STD cases in 2021. Among the STDs, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis cases combined were up 4.4% in 2021.
There was also a 49% jump in syphilis cases among women in 2021, the data shows. Congenital syphilis, which is when the disease passes from mother to baby during pregnancy, also was steeply on the rise, with cases up 24% in 2021, compared to 2020.
"In the early 2000s, we were near eradicating syphilis here in the U.S., so it's a bit terrifying to see how much syphilis has come back, ripping and roaring through our communities," Joseph Cherabie, MD, an assistant professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told Live Science.
Syphilis causes sores and rashes and, left untreated over a long period of time, poses a risk of causing severe problems in organs, the brain, and the nervous system. Untreated congenital syphilis can lead to stillbirth.
Overall, syphilis cases rose 25.7% in 2021, compared to 2020, driven largely by the 49% increase among women. The increase among men was 19.3%.
Chlamydia cases also rose, up 3.1% in 2021, compared to 2020. The increase was mostly driven by a 5.4% increase among men. Chlamydia can infect men and women, and can cause permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system.
Gonorrhea cases were up 4.1% among men in 2021, compared to 2020. The rate for women fell in 2021 by 0.3%. It is particularly common among people under age 25 and can cause reproductive and fertility problems in men and women if left untreated.
Experts say STD cases are on the rise due to less attention to sexual health while public health focus and resources shifted to COVID-19 and also to the mpox outbreak. Increased opioid use is also considered a contributing factor.
Chlamydia remains the most common STD, accounting for 1.6 million cases in 2021. It was trailed by gonorrhea, with nearly 700,000 cases, and by syphilis, with 171,000 cases.