Written by Elizabeth Millard

Cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) have taken a sharp downturn in recent months, according to an October report from the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC). And in a year filled with (seemingly) nothing but bad news, this might seem like a glimmer of hope. Are Americans having safer sex? [2]

Well, not necessarily. Only one-third [12] of Americans report using condoms regularly. So less sex, stemming from social distancing guidelines, must be the reason, right?

Wrong again. Turns out, the worst-case scenario is true: Nobody is getting tested.

“There are simply less visits to physicians happening in general, and that includes testing for STDs,” explains Christine Greves, M.D., who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at Orlando Health in Florida. “That doesn’t mean the rate of infection is down, unfortunately. It just means they’re going undetected.” [3,4]

She notes that many clinics have changed procedures, reduced their hours, and advised against nonessential appointments—all contributing to the wave of undetected STDs. [3,4]


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STDs Have Been on the Rise for Some Time


According to the CDC, STDs were already at record-high numbers for years before the pandemic. In 2016, more than 2 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported in the United States, the highest number ever. One of the CDC’s directors called STDs “a persistent enemy, growing in number, and outpacing our ability to respond.” [5]

Another CDC report released two years later shows that upward trend continuing. In fact, the four main STDs have showed alarming increases since 2014: [6]

  • Chlamydia: up 19 percent
  • Gonorrhea: up 63 percent
  • Primary and secondary syphilis: up 71 percent
  • Congenital syphilis: up 185 percent

There are no stats yet for 2020, but given the trajectory of the past five years, coupled with existing reluctance around testing, the outlook doesn’t look promising. Even before clinics created necessary restrictions to address COVID, physicians and public health officials were trying to overcome barriers to testing like access to clinics, the cost for patients, and embarrassment. With the pandemic layered on top of these, the challenge simply became larger. [3,7]

“COVID has impacted testing everywhere, especially with places like community clinics, which do quite a bit of STD testing,” [7] says Richard Jimenez, Ph.D., a former public health advisor with the CDC and core faculty at Walden University’s Ph.D. in Public Health program. “That has caused everyone to pivot in different ways, patients and clinicians alike. That’s putting a stronger focus on testing done from home.” [7]


How At-Home Testing Can Provide a Safe, Simple Alternative


Every barrier that existed before the pandemic—like access and privacy—can be addressed through at-home testing, and now, in the era of COVID-19, there is one more advantage: extra safety. [3,7] Additionally, if an infection such as chlamydia or trichomoniasis is identified, treatment can be provided.

“You have less COVID-19 exposure when you stay home,” says Jimenez. “That makes at-home testing not just a viable option but possibly the safest one as well.” [7]

A recent report from the National Coalition of STD Directors highlighted how at-home testing has emerged as a good alternative to in-person STD testing—including how, in some cases, it can be combined with telehealth services that can help with treatment options if tests are positive. [7,9]

In terms of cost, it’s helpful to have multiple STD tests in one kit, rather than having to pay for multiple tests that could drive up the expense. For example, LetsGetChecked has the Complete 10, a home STD test designed to detect the 10 most common sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis, and herpes. [10]

Getting results on multiple tests in this way can help prompt immediate treatment, as well as help you avoid passing an infection to a partner. It may prevent acquiring additional STDs as well—for example, the Mayo Clinic notes that untreated STDs can stimulate an immune response in the genital area or cause sores, which might raise the risk of HIV transmission. In some cases, STDs can also lead to certain types of cervical cancer, organ damage, or infertility. [3,11]


When to See a Doctor


The combination of at-home tests and telehealth can help with COVID-19 prevention, STD detection, and subsequent treatment, but if you’re already experiencing serious symptoms, Dr. Greves suggests getting seen immediately, rather than waiting for the results of an at-home test. These serious symptoms include: [3,11]

  • Pelvic pain
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Bleeding
  • Unusual or foul-smelling discharge
  • Pain during sex
  • Sores or swellings in the genital area

If none of these symptoms are present (which happens in the majority of cases), at-home testing can give you a convenient, safe, private option for staying on track with your health and give you peace of mind.

LetsGetChecked offers an extensive portfolio of at-home STD tests, with free shipping both ways, and accurate lab results in two to five days.

“Right now, safety is crucial in terms of limiting exposure to COVID, but it’s also important to know your STD status,” says Dr. Greves. “Just because you’re home doesn’t mean you can’t get tested.” [3]


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Test and treat your sexual health from home with our range of at-home STD tests.


References


  1. Centers for Disease control and Prevention
    Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
    Guidance and Resources During Disruption of STD Clinical Services
    https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/disruptionGuidance.htm

  2. Centers for Disease control and Prevention
    Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
    Dear Colleague Letter
    Providing effective care and prevention when facility-based services and in-person patient-clinician contact is limited
    https://www.cdc.gov/std/dstdp/DCL-STDTreatment-COVID19-04062020.pdf

  3. Christine Greves M.D.

  4. Orlando Health
    Christine Carlan Greves, MD - Obstetrics & Gynecology
    https://www.orlandohealth.com/physician-finder/christine-carlan-greves-md#/overview?hcmacid=a0bi000000IJHB8AAP

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    CDC Newsroom
    STDs at record high, indicating urgent need for prevention
    https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0926-std-prevention.html

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    2018 STD Surveillance Report Highlights Alarming threat: Newborn Deaths from Syphilis
    https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats18/default.htm

  7. Richard Jimenez
    Walden University

  8. Walden University
    Richard Jimenez
    https://www.waldenu.edu/why-walden/faculty/richard-jimenez#:~:text=Jimenez received his Doctorate in,Dr.

  9. National Coalition of STD Directors
    Sexual Health Clinics and Our Nation’s COVID-19 Response
    https://www.ncsddc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Clinic-Call-Report-10.23.2020-final.pdf

  10. LetsGetChecked
    Complete 10
    https://www.letsgetchecked.com/us/en/complete-std-test/

  11. Mayo Clinic
    Sexually transmitted disease (STD) symptoms
    https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sexually-transmitted-diseases-stds/in-depth/std-symptoms/art-20047081#:~:text=If untreated%2C STIs can increase,the risk of HIV transmission.

  12. National Health Statistics Reports
    Condom Use During Sexual Intercourse Among Women and Men Aged 15–44 in the United States: 2011–2015 National Survey of Family Growth
    by Casey E. Copen, M.P.H., Ph.D
    Number 105
    August 10, 2017