Since the arrival of COVID-19, scientists and healthcare professionals have shown concern that the novel coronavirus could impact the reporting and treatment of other diseases. The reporting data for sexually transmitted diseases has seen an impact since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, and this affects patient outcomes.
At first glance, it might not seem like STDs and COVID-19 have any correlation, but they do. Let’s look at trends about STDs during the pandemic, how COVID-19 disrupted STD care, and much more.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show a dramatic reduction in reported STD cases during 2020 compared to the same period pre-pandemic. While some healthcare professionals initially thought that stay-at-home orders could be responsible for this drop, two other significant factors likely contributed: reduced screening and limited resources.
For much of the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare clinics had limited availability for in-person visits, while others simply closed. The clinics that did stay open quickly became understaffed as both local and state STD staff were redirected from their usual work and retrained to help with COVID-19 testing and treatment.
The overall decline in HIV and other STD testing led to some stark numbers. In particular, reported cases of chlamydia went down by 14% in 2020 compared to 2019 data, gonorrhea cases went down by 7% compared to the year prior, and P&S (primary & secondary) syphilis cases went down by 1% compared to 2019 data.
Another concerning impact of the interplay between STDs and COVID was a resurgence in reported cases toward the end of 2020. Both syphilis and gonorrhea saw a spike in cases, and many experts believe that reporting was likely behind the actual numbers in both cases. Many clinics closed; those that stayed open saw reduced resources, and patients became less likely to seek treatment out of fear of exposing themselves to COVID in the process.
The United States had already been dealing with record-high rates of STDs before the COVID-19 pandemic began. In fact, the CDC had put the United States on track for its sixth straight year of high numbers for gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. These numbers dropped significantly after the pandemic started, and as mentioned, this had less to do with a decrease in sexual encounters and more to do with a reduction in testing.
Stay-at-home orders disrupted the ability of many to get the testing they needed, and the risk of inflammatory disease kept away patients who might otherwise seek treatment.
Since COVID-19 began, it’s been challenging for healthcare providers to close the testing gap. Along with the obvious risks involved for potential patients, many clinics closed or decreased their overall capacity. Many contract trace specialists who once worked in clinics now found themselves in health departments and similar settings, focusing instead on limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Fast and accurate testing has mitigated some of these problems. Some solutions, such as this rapid STD test offered by Rapid STD Testing, allow for same-day testing and results in 1-3 business days, easing the strain on healthcare professionals.
According to the CDC, you can transmit COVID-19 during sex. While there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through vaginal fluid or semen, doctors have found it in the semen of those who tested positive. While you can’t sexually transmit it in the same manner as an STD, it can still spread during sex because of the risk factors involved, namely saliva contact and close, heavy breathing.
In contrast to many sexually transmitted diseases, COVID-19 is an infectious disease that allows for spread through kissing. COVID-19 can spread through contact with saliva, and even breathing in proximity to someone who tested positive can lead to you contracting the airborne disease. Experts agree that you should avoid kissing someone outside of your social bubble and self-isolate if you’ve kissed someone who tested positive.
While there remains no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is a sexually transmitted disease, the risk of transmission during sex is still high, thanks to contact through air and saliva. There’s no safe time (for when to start having sex after COVID-19 infection) that applies in every situation. With that said, experts generally agree that if it’s been ten days since infection and you’ve since had a negative rapid test, sex should be safe.
Similar to our point on sexual transmission, you won’t necessarily get COVID-19 from touching someone’s genitals. With that said, such activity commonly also involves kissing and breathing within a closed environment. The best course of action is to stay within your social bubble and get tested often. It’s possible to have this kind of sexual contact with someone and still avoid COVID-19, but the risk is still quite high because of the other factors we mentioned.
COVID-19 vaccines have no adverse effect on fertility or sexual function. While STDs and COVID-19 have some interplay in terms of loss of resources at clinics and reduced testing overall, vaccines don’t play a role. In fact, getting vaccinated can allow for safer encounters that reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
With that said, you should always practice safe sex and remember that COVID-19 vaccines cannot reduce the risk of catching an STD. If you’re unsure about your status, Rapid STD Testing offers same day STD testing as well as a 10 panel STD test that can help.
The evidence is clear: Sexual health clinics in particular and sexual health services in general need more funding. Expedited partner treatment can help slow the rise in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Along with that, the safe reopening of clinics and appointments can and will help patients’ sexual health.
We need more testing, more open clinics, and more available personnel in order to accommodate that ramp-up in STD testing. When it comes to at home STD tests vs. STD testing clinics, the data are clear: In-person help at a clinic allows for personalized, expert-level care that you simply can’t get at home.
When it comes to STDs and COVID-19, the numbers don’t lie. Testing has gone down, cases have gone up, and resources have seen a significant reduction overall. The time for action is now. If you’re unsure about your status, get tested today.