There was a 32% increase in combined stages of syphilis between 2020 and 2021, the CDC said. Cases of congenital syphilis, which happens when a mother with syphilis passes the infection on to her baby during pregnancy, also rose by 32%. The spike resulted in 220 stillbirths and infant deaths.
“The U.S. STI epidemic shows no signs of slowing.” CDC STD Prevention division head Leandro Mena said.
The agency expressed concern that screening for the infections continued to be impacted by COVID-related disruptions in the second year of the pandemic, especially for chlamydia, which is often asymptomatic.
Chlamydia rates rose nearly 4%. Chlamydia, the most prevalent STI, accounted for 1.6 million of the more than 2.5 million reported cases of sexually transmitted infections nationwide in 2021.
Gonorrhea rates increased more than 4%, with more than 710,000 cases reported in 2021. Health officials this year have identified cases of a “concerning” new drug-resistant gonorrhea strain.
The CDC’s 2021 data show STIs continue to disproportionately affect gay and bisexual men and younger people. A disproportionate number of cases were also diagnosed among Black/African American and American Indian/Alaska Native people.
The agency called for expanding local public health services and making testing and treatment more accessible.
“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.