Sexually transmitted diseases increase rapidly as precautions are weakened

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, STDs, especially gonorrhea, syphilis and congenital syphilis – are all on the rise among babies born to infected mothers.

In 2020, the number of gonorrhea patients increased by 10 percent, and syphilis increased by 7 percent. According to the CDC, preliminary data from 2021 showed that syphilis continued to rise, with a 34 percent increase in women.

The pandemic has slowed data collection, but the CDC says data through 2021 shows “unrelenting momentum.” [sexually transmitted diseases] STD prevention services continued despite disruptions.’

In Massachusetts, the most recent data is for 2020, and gonorrhea cases in women increased by 20 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching 2,544. Data shows that in 2020, 11 percent of people diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection had more than one such infection. The Department of Health said the numbers should be interpreted with caution because of how the pandemic has affected data collection.

At Boston Medical Center, Dr. Cassandra Pierre is seeing “the most notable increase in STI diagnoses across all age groups, including the over-50s, and across all sexual orientations.”

And at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Dr. According to Durane Walker, an infectious disease specialist, “unless we do something drastic to curb cases,” the number will continue to rise.

As of 2019, newborns with syphilis were rare, fewer than a handful each year, according to Massachusetts data. This number increased to 9 in 2019 and 10 in 2020, as the rate of syphilis among women of childbearing age also increased. In addition, data suggest that chlamydia increased sharply in men and women before the pandemic, followed by a sharp decline in early 2020, although recent data on all STIs are not yet available.

But state health officials worry that the decline is because fewer people are being tested for these infections, and that it may not reflect an actual decline. The Department of Health issued a warning to health workers earlier this year, recommending that they contact patients to ensure they get tested.

STDs are infections that are transmitted from one person to another through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. They can also be spread through intimate physical contact, such as vigorous petting, but this is not very common. (Monkey pox is not classified as a sexually transmitted disease, but the CDC said last week that in 99 percent of cases for which it has complete data, the infection is spread through sex with men.)

If left untreated, some infections can have serious health consequences. For example, long-term chlamydia can cause infertility in women, as can untreated gonorrhea.

Syphilis, which usually has few initial symptoms, can cause serious health problems months or years later.

“Syphilis can cause blindness, hearing loss and deafness,” Walker said. “It may seem like a simple sexually transmitted infection, but if left untreated, it can have long-term consequences that can last for years.”

Some health care providers said they were too overwhelmed with cases of COVID-19 and delayed care for other patients to continue testing and prevention initiatives for sexually transmitted diseases.

“Symptoms of many STIs can persist for months to years, as this lack of regular screening among those who are exposed can lead to multiple, undetected infections. [infection] caught and treated,” said Pierre, associate hospital epidemiologist and medical director of public health programs at Boston Medical Center.

The CDC recommends that sexually active women under 25 be tested for the two most common STIs, gonorrhea and chlamydia, at least annually, as well as women over 25 who have new or multiple sexual partners. He also says everyone who is pregnant should be tested for syphilis and HIV, as well as other STIs. And all sexually active gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with other men should be tested for syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV at least once a year.

Other factors contributing to the rise in sexually transmitted diseases, doctors say, include the opioid addiction epidemic, which has worsened users’ perceptions of the risks, and the A reduction in condom use, the medication many people know as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), can significantly reduce the risk of contracting HIV through sex or IV drug use.

But PrEP drugs don’t protect against other sexually transmitted diseases, so doctors say patients should take precautions and get tested for STIs regularly.

“The test is very important because these [infections] everything can be cured. And in some cases, it is a dose of antibiotics or an injection,” said the doctor. Kevin Ard, director of the sexual health clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Doctors are retreating due to the increase in infections.

Ard’s clinic is offering testing and treatment at community health centers and other community events because, he says, some people “don’t want to come to our clinic in a big hospital.”

His clinic and more than a dozen other counties in Massachusetts receive state funding to offer free STD testing to people without health insurance.

Wessolossky opened an STD clinic at UMass Memorial Health, a social services AIDS project in Worcester that specializes in helping the homeless and drug addicts.

Pierre Monkey of Boston Medical Center offers a package of tests for several sexually transmitted diseases to patients who come in for smallpox treatment if they provide information about two or more recent sexual partners.

“Unfortunately, we made a tentative diagnosis and treated it [STDs] among a number of people applying for vaccination against monkeys,” said Pierre.

And Baystate Health’s Walker is offering self-wiping kits similar to at-home COVID tests, so patients can swab their genitals, throats and other areas in the privacy of their own homes, then bring the swabs to the clinic. , or to be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia at a Baystate Health lab near them.

Dr. Durane Walker offers self-test kits, no questions asked. Patients take the kits home with instructions on how to wipe themselves, then bring them back for recycling.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

“When they come to drop off samples, we encourage them to take a blood test for syphilis or HIV if needed,” Walker said. “People feel more involved and less judged.”

State and national data show significant, persistent disparities in sexually transmitted diseases. For example, a recent CDC report found that in 2020, 32 percent of all cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis occurred among non-Hispanic blacks, even though they made up only about 12 percent of the U.S. population.

“It is important to note that these disparities cannot be explained by differences in sexual behavior and, rather, reflect differential access to quality sexual health care,” the report said.

Infections are becoming less common as the number increases, but more serious complications are also increasing. Ard said the growing number of pregnant women diagnosed with syphilis at her Mass. clinic is particularly troubling. General. As each of them is caught, he worries that there may be others who are not regularly screened and fail.

Untreated syphilis in pregnant women can cause serious health problems in babies, including cataracts, deafness, seizures, and death.

“It’s very unfortunate because it was rare for a while,” Ard said. “And it’s completely preventable.”


Kay Lazar can be reached at kay.lazar@globe.com @GlobeKayLazar.

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