Midstate health centers encourage STD testing after 2020 case spike

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases plummeted early in the pandemic before surpassing 2019 levels more recently.

At the start of 2020, most of the attention in health care and for Pennsylvanians was on the COVID pandemic.

“People just weren’t paying attention or getting tested because it wasn’t in the top of their minds,” said Sam Bobila, director of external affairs at Planned Parenthood Keystone.

The CDC says that’s likely why STD cases initially plummeted, as people made fewer routine doctor visits.

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“It should be a bit up to par with the course and your normal health routine. That’s part of self-care, right? said Bobila.

But the decline didn’t last long after the pandemic began. In 2020, more than half of reported cases of STDs were in young people aged 15 to 24. Data also shows that certain racial and ethnic minority groups and gay and bisexual men continue to experience higher rates of STDs.

“More of our people are coming to get tested regularly, which is a good thing, and that shouldn’t scare people away from getting tested. But because we’re seeing so many people coming in to get tested, we’re seeing the numbers skyrocket,” said Anthony Hall, community engagement specialist at GLO Harrisburg. GLO Harrisburg serves LGBTQ+ men of color and trans women of color.

“There is no gender, sexuality or religion that will prevent you from getting a viral infection, so it’s important that everyone comes out to get tested,” Hall said.

The CDC reported cases of primary and secondary gonorrhea and syphilis up 10% and 7%, respectively, from 2019.

Syphilis in newborns (i.e. congenital syphilis) has also increased, with reported cases up nearly 15% from 2019 and 235% from 2016. Early data indicates that primary and secondary syphilis and congenital syphilis cases also continued to increase in 2021.

Reported chlamydia cases decreased by 13% compared to 2019. The decline in reported chlamydia cases is likely due to reduced STD testing and underdiagnosis during the pandemic rather than a reduction in new infections. This also contributed to an overall decrease in the number of STDs reported 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 not treated, your health is really at risk, so we really encourage people to go get tested. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone gets tested,” Bobila said.

Maria J. Book