April 13 (UPI) -- Reported annual cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States continued to climb in 2019, reaching an all-time high for the sixth consecutive year, according to figures released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, the three most commonly reported STDs, were reported nationally in 2019, the most recent year for which information is available, the CDC said.
Cases of STDs across the country grew nearly 30% between 2015 and 2019, with the most pronounced increase was with syphilis, which rose 70%, the agency said.
"Less than 20 years ago, gonorrhea rates in the U.S. were at historic lows, syphilis was close to elimination and advances in chlamydia diagnostics made it easier to detect infections," Dr. Raul Romaguera, director of the CDC's Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release.
"That progress has since unraveled, and our STD defenses are down," he said.
Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, reductions in STD screening, treatment, prevention and other services contributed to case increases for many years, according to the CDC.
However, since the pandemic began, large numbers of STD program staff members at the state and local level have been allocated to COVID-19 response, leading to more delays in services, the agency said.
As of January, about one-third of state and local STD program staff members still were deployed to assist with COVID-19 response efforts, a recent survey found.
STDs, even among those who experience no symptoms, can cause health complications, particularly if left untreated. They can raise a person's risk for HIV, infertility, severe pregnancy, newborn complications and infant death, according to the CDC.
In 2019, rates of STDs were five to eight times higher for Black people, and up to twice as high for Latinos, than for non-Hispanic White people, the data showed.
Gay and bisexual men accounted for nearly half of all syphilis cases in 2019, and rates of gonorrhea in this population were 42 times that of heterosexual men in some areas, according to the CDC.
In addition, teens and young adults ages 15 to 24 years made up 61% of chlamydia cases and 42% of gonorrhea cases in 2019, the agency said.
Preliminary data for 2020 suggests that many of the concerning trends observed in 2019 continued, when much of the country experienced major disruptions to STD testing and treatment services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said.
"STDs will not wait for the pandemic to end, so we must rise to the challenge now," Romaguera said.
"These new data should create a sense of urgency and mobilize the resources needed, so that future reports can tell a different story," he said.