Experts fear drop in STD numbers during pandemic due to cutback in testing – NBC 7 San Diego
Data collected during the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases have declined, but experts at UC San Diego’s Antiviral Research Center say rates may rise soon.
‘While home support orders and social distancing mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic have decreased sexual encounters in which STDs can spread, they have also reduced the availability and use of sexual health services’ ‘said Dr Susan Little, an infectious disease specialist at UCSD Health.
STDs, also known as sexually transmitted infections or STIs, are viral or bacterial infections, not necessarily chronic illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 20 million new cases of STIs in the United States each year. In an attempt to combat resurgent STI rates, the Good to Go Clinic through UCSD Medical School will launch the Facts Over Fear Campaign – a series of weekly and community-based virtual events aimed at educate the public about the STI and HIV landscape in San Diego, and why sexual health is more important than ever – for STD Awareness Month that begins Thursday.
Nationally, in April 2020, reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and early syphilis were down 47%, 33% and 30%, respectively, from the previous year. While the decrease in the rates of reported infections is generally a positive development, medical experts are very concerned that sexually transmitted infections are now largely undetected due to the decrease in testing. The lack of tests and diagnoses could spell another public health crisis.
“Due to the barriers created by the pandemic and severe stigma around testing for STIs and HIV, fewer people are being tested and treated for these diseases. Now that San Diego is in the red category, it’s critical that community members take stock of their sex. health, ” said Dr Gabriel Wagner, infectious disease specialist at UCSD Health.
While home orders declined in early June 2020, in some cases positive illnesses have returned or even exceeded 2019 levels.
“Over the past decade, we have seen a steady increase in STIs in the United States, California and San Diego,” Wagner told City News Service. “It’s likely that such a sudden drop is related to the lack of testing. I think we’ll see a big spike in infections as things continue to open up.”
San Diego’s highest risk populations for HIV are: Latino, Black, Gen Z, and people assigned to male at birth who have sex with others assigned to male at birth. Wagner said systemic barriers such as cost and access to healthcare are a big factor in those communities that experience higher rates of STIs. Behavioral choices, social stigma, and a lack of solid sexuality education all play contributing roles.
Although the number of newly diagnosed HIV cases has declined, the number of people living with HIV continues to increase. At the end of 2018, 13,876 people were living with an HIV diagnosis in San Diego County, while approximately 1,364 people were living with an undiagnosed HIV infection.
Although there is no cure for HIV, antiretroviral therapy can suppress the virus, making it undetectable. The 2020 National HIV / AIDS Strategy has an 80% viral suppression target and San Diego is 74% overall, with the percentage fluctuating based on demographics, sexual orientation, and identity. The county’s lowest viral suppression rates are found among black and transgender communities.
“What I would like to see is that we start to normalize when talking about sexual health,” Wagner said. “And talk about it more directly and honestly.”
You will find more information on the Facts Over Fear campaign and a calendar of events. here.