Sexually transmitted diseases exploded in 2021, with syphilis rates reaching levels not seen in decades, according to an official from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Syphilis, a bacterial disease that shows up as genital sores and can lead to other diseases and even death, showed a huge increase last year. The rate of syphilis cases reached its highest level since 1991, while the total number of cases rose to its highest level since 1948, just three years after World War II. HIV cases also rose 16 percent from 2020 to 2021,The Guardian reports.
Syphilis bottomed out in the U.S. in the late 1990s, with the CDC hoping to fully eradicate the disease. Only years later, syphilis rates would start rising; by 2021, more than 52,000 cases were reported.
Many factors could be at play, but officials believe the COVID pandemic is mostly at fault. Testing and treatment took a backseat during the worst days of the crisis in 2020, while many people now feel sexually unshackled with COVID vaccines available, lockdowns over, and mask mandates lifted. Some health officials are calling for public messaging about condoms. Monkeypox, which exploded this year and last, is also complicating efforts and eating up health funding from the government.
The CDC’s Leandro Mena, who made the announcement about STDs at a Monday speech, is calling for swift action. One of his ideas is widely available home-test kits for STDs, akin to the COVID tests common today. Mena also called for battling stigma — ostensibly through public relations, marketing, or public service announcements — and increased testing and treatment.