STDs in U.S. hit all-time high, pandemic blamed for situation getting worse

Published: Apr. 16, 2021 at 10:11 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - For the sixth year in a row, sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. hit an all-time high, specifically for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. While the most recent CDC data is for 2019, health experts worry the COVID-19 pandemic made it harder for people to get tested. Eyewitness News spoke with a local nonprofit testing center who said even though it didn’t see a decrease in people coming in to get tested, it is seeing a higher trend for positive tests.

It was a different year for Wichita STD testing center, Positive Directions in 2020.

“Our normal game plan is to have outreach, go out in the community health fairs, special events that we set up and partner with different community organizations,” said Positive Directions Executive Director Brett Hogan.

Hogan said even though the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the testing center from reaching people at these events, testing didn’t decline.

“As the pandemic increased and as we got deeper into the summer, we were not seeing a drop in those numbers. We were seeing increases, and it wasn’t just individuals wanting the testing. It was also people testing positive,” he said.

He said the pandemic had a big effect on positive tests.

“We were all in the mindset of ‘don’t spread COVID,’ while we were all spreading STIs, sadly,” Hogan said.

He said in the last six years there has been an uptick in sexually transmitted infections nationwide, but in the Midwest, syphilis has been a big problem.

“Now it’s pretty much hit general population, it’s out there,” Hogan said. “It’s hit here in the Midwest as an epidemic, and that’s another thing we’ve kept quiet, unintentionally. We were so focused on COVID and all this other stuff, and syphilis still has that stigma.”

He said people don’t realize how easy it is to get treated for a disease like syphilis.

“We’ve seen a massive uptick these last few years of positive syphilis cases. It’s an easy one. It’s penicillin. We can get rid of it really fast,” Hogan said.

He said with things going back to normal as millions are vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s especially important for people to get tested for STDs. Positive Directions tests people at no cost, but those wishing to get tested do need to make an appointment.

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