Global social distancing, which was a key element promoted by public health officials to prevent the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has never been practiced to this extent in modern history. This practice has had many effects that go beyond slowing the transmission of COVID-19.
One area that social distancing has impacted is sexually transmitted disease (STD) and its related treatments. You might expect that social distancing would reduce STD rates. However, the data are more complex. Let’s take a look at the results.
STD testing declined during the COVID-19 pandemic
With the focus on containing the global pandemic, STDs and STD clinics didn’t receive much attention. COVID-19 emergency measures impacted non-emergency medical care including STD care. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, STD rates were increasing. A major concern is that diseases such as chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea are asymptomatic and may therefore have been perceived as non-urgent and not prioritized.
There are several reasons for the decline in STD care and testing during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Socioeconomic impacts such as job loss leading to insurance coverage disruption in some countries
- Decreased sexual activity may have led to reduced actual and/or perceived rates of risk
- Fears of COVID-19 infection
However, STDs didn’t disappear simply because of the arrival of the novel coronavirus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 20% of all Americans have an STD. Now that data on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected STD rates have begun to emerge, it’s become apparent that the prevalence of infections may have increased.
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