In observance of National STI Awareness Week, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is raising awareness about rising sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates in Rhode Island and nationwide.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released their 2021 Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Surveillance. The annual report shows STI rates continued to increase, with more than 2.5 million new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis identified in the United States in 2021. RIDOH released its annual 2021 Rhode Island HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections, Viral Hepatitis, and Tuberculosis Surveillance Report in February. (See links below for both reports.)
"While there is no one reason why rates of STIs are increasing, some factors may be sexual activity with larger networks of partners, substance abuse, and social and economic disparities that limit access to healthcare. In addition, biomedical interventions to prevent HIV and pregnancy may create the incorrect perception that condoms are not needed as much as they were in the past," said Utpala Bandy, MD, MPH, RIDOH Interim Director. "Long-acting injectable contraceptives and pre-exposure medications to reduce your chances of getting HIV (also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP) do not protect against STIs. Fortunately, Rhode Island is a national leader in launching innovative programs to increase access to condoms and testing. These programs can help Rhode Islanders stay health and safe during this time of rapidly increasing STI rates."
"If you are sexually active, make sure to have a discussion with your medical provider regarding the need to be tested periodically for STIs," said Dr. Philip Chan, Consultant Medical Director for RIDOH's Division of Emergency Preparedness and Infectious Disease. "This is especially true if you have multiple sexual partners or are contemplating pregnancy."
Testing and consistent, correct use of condoms are important parts of safer sex. RIDOH's free condoms by mail program and TESTING 1-2-3, which allows people to get tested for HIV and STIs at the lab of their choice without a trip to the doctor's office, are examples of RIDOH programs launched in these areas during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about these programs at health.ri.gov/findcondoms and testing123ri.com. RIDOH also offers the RIghtTime sexual health app (righttimeapp.com), which provides information on prevention, testing, and treatment resources.
The RIDOH and CDC STI surveillance reports indicate:
- From 2012-2021, there has been a 21% increase in chlamydia cases in Rhode Island, from 4,313 cases in 2012 to 5,199 cases in 2021. Nationwide, 1.6 million chlamydia infections were reported in 2021. Most chlamydia cases in the last 10 years have been diagnosed in females. In 2021, nearly twice as many cases were diagnosed in females than in males in Rhode Island. This difference is likely due to two factors. First, women generally access routine healthcare and subsequent screening more frequently than men and are screened for chlamydia more often. Second, men who have chlamydia often do not have symptoms and do not seek healthcare for screening and treatment. From 2017-2021, the highest rates of chlamydia were in people in their 20s, followed by people ages 30-39 and those age 19 or younger.
- From 2012-2021, there has been a 232% increase in gonorrhea cases in Rhode Island, from 507 cases in 2012 to 1681 cases in 2021. More than 700,000 gonorrhea cases were reported nationwide in 2021. In the last 10 years, more gonorrhea cases have been observed in males than in females. In the last five years, case rates for gonorrhea have been consistently highest among people in their 20s, followed by people in their 30s.
- From 2012-2021, there has been a 382% increase in infectious syphilis cases in Rhode Island, from 68 cases in 2012 to 328 cases in 2021. Reported cases of syphilis (all stages) totaled more than 176,000 cases nationwide in 2021. These data represent diagnosed cases based on positive test results and history. In 2021, more cases of infectious syphilis were observed among females compared to prior years; however, males still account for the majority of the reported cases reported. Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM) are disproportionately affected by STIs, including infectious syphilis in Rhode Island, a trend that is also observed nationally.
- In the last two years, RIDOH received its first reports of congenital syphilis in over 10 years. Congenital syphilis continued to surge nationwide in 2021, increasing 203 percent since 2017. In 2021, 38 jurisdictions, including 37 states and the District of Columbia, reported an increase in congenital syphilis cases.
For more information on STIs in Rhode Island, download RIDOH's RIghtTime app or visit health.ri.gov/sti.