PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Sexually transmitted infections are at an all-time high for the sixth year in a row.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 2.6 million new cases in 2019, compared to 1.9 million new cases in 2014.
Rates dipped at the height of the pandemic, likely due to fewer people getting tested, but now that life is returning back to normal, those numbers are ticking up.
Brittany Fonteno with Planned Parenthood Southern New England told 12 News on Monday, “During COVID, what we saw was a seemingly decrease in the amount of STIs, but that was really because people weren’t getting tested. That didn’t actually mean that STIs weren’t there.”
“In the first part of 2021, we’ve already seen those rates start to increase again.” said Dr. Philip Chan, Medical Director with the Rhode Island Department of Health.
One reason why STIs can be spread so rapidly is due to the absence of symptoms in some patients.
“Part of the problem with STIs is actually really similar to COVID. A lot of people with COVID were asymptomatic, a lot of people with STIs are asymptomatic as well, and that means you can spread them without knowing it.” said Dr. Chan, “It’s incredibly important, similiar to COVID, just to be tested and to be tested routinely, epecially if you’re having multiple sex partners or having new partners for the first time.”
According to Dr. Chan, multiple factors that can be attributed to the rise in cases, “People are using condoms less, people are using things like oral contraceptives, and people may be having more sex, especially during the summer, post-pandemic.”
According to Fonteno, certain groups of people are at higher risk for STIs – such as Black and Latinx communities, low income earners, and people who identify as LGBTQ+, especially gay and bisexual men, who are at the greatest risk for HIV.
“In Rhode Island specifically, we’ve seen pretty alarming trends when it comes to sexually transmitted infections.” said Fonteno, “Two specific examples from the year 2010 to the year 2019 – rates of syphylis increased more than 200% and in that same time period, rates of gonorrhea increased by 400%.”
Planned Parenthood’s message is that education is key.
“We have educators who are within all of the communities that our health centers are in and they’re able to provide expert, compassionate, and non-stigmatizing information to people.” added Fonteno.
There are several local resources available online.
The Rhode Island Department of Health has a new program, Testing 1-2-3, which allows people to fill out a form in order to generate a doctor’s note to go to a lab to be tested. That program is geared toward people without symptoms who want to be tested routinely.
There is also a “Right Time” sexual health app – where people can find information on STIs and getting tested.