NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Several sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are surging in the United States, including in Tennessee. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows infections have been trending upward and have “no signs of slowing” down.
“We’re seeing anywhere from 50 to 75 people a day, just coming in for STD testing,” said Laura Varnier, director of nursing with the Metro Nashville Health Department.
Those on the front lines of treatment say the surging increase is not surprising, but they are worried about the ripple effects many of them have.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s surprising. I think for a number of years we recognize that we weren’t testing as much because there weren’t as many centers that were open to be testing,” explained Varnier.
This week, troubling new data from the CDC showed sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis all increased between 2020 and 2021 and reached a total of more than 2.5 million reported cases, according to the CDC. In that same timeframe, syphilis increased by nearly 32%.
“Tennessee has always been on the high side with some of these sexually acquired, sexually transmitted infections, and there are probably several reasons to this. One is related to COVID,” said Dr. William Schaffner.
When the state shut down, many were left with “stay-at-home” orders. Then, many refused to go to the doctor, leaving some without the knowledge or treatment for an STD.
“I have to say in our state, there’s been a lack of trust in public health, so people may be less apt to go and seek care and follow the recommendations,” Dr. Scheffner explained.
Syphilis cases are now the highest they have been in 70 years. In Tennessee, the Department of Health has tracked more than 3,000 cases.
“The U.S. STI epidemic shows no signs of slowing. The reasons for the ongoing increases are multifaceted, and so are the solutions. For the first time in decades, we’re seeing promising new STI interventions on the horizon, but these alone will not solve this epidemic,” said Dr. Leandro Mena, the director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention. “It will take many of us working together to effectively use new and existing tools, to increase access to quality sexual healthcare services for more people and to encourage ongoing innovation and prioritization of STI prevention and treatment in this country.”
Syphilis is not only concerning on its own but also the effects it could have on a newborn. Cases of congenital syphilis rose by an alarming 32% and resulted in 220 stillbirths and infant deaths.
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“We’re concerned about fertility, we’re concerned about what may happen down the road, especially with syphilis. There are things like neurosyphilis, there are things that could happen with your eyes, with your hearing, but all of those things can be prevented if these STDs are treated early,” said Varnier.
Another STD on the rise is chlamydia. According to the Metro Health Department, as of April 1, Davidson County has added 1,430 new cases of chlamydia in 2023.
“You might want to get you and your partner checked first before you become intimate. Number two, condoms are available. They’re not perfect but they really do reduce the risk. If you have any symptoms, don’t keep them to yourself, actually seek medical care,” urged Dr. Scheffner.
The Metro Health Department tests for the following infections:
- Hepatitis C
The Metro Sexual Health Center is open Monday through Friday, and despite an increase in testing, the department told News 2 there are always openings. If you would like to get tested, you can schedule by calling the East location at 615-862-7916 and the Woodbine location at 615-862-7940.