STI Testing Significantly Decreased During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Testing and diagnosis rates for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) decreased “profoundly” in Southern California during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the results of a recent study presented at the 2022 Conference for Antiretroviral and Opportunistic Infections (CROI).

The considerable disruptions in the provision of routine health care during the COVID-19 pandemic may have hampered the detection of STIs. This prompted a team of researchers to retrospectively study trends in testing for and diagnosing of chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV infection in a US health system before and during the pandemic.

Their study was based on data recorded in the electronic health records of members of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California system who were at least 12 years of age. The researchers assessed the rates per 100,000 person-years of testing and new positive test results for the 4 STIs of interest during 2017 to 2020. They then compared the results between the prepandemic and pandemic periods.

As a result, they found that rates of testing were stable or increased moderately during the prepandemic period. However, compared with prepandemic testing rates, rates of testing for all STIs were significantly lower from March to December 2020. Moreover, diagnosis rates for HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea were 7% to 29% lower during the pandemic but higher for syphilis.

“We observed profound reductions in testing and diagnosis rates for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV during the COVID-19 pandemic in Southern California compared to the pre-pandemic period. [...] These findings suggest the pandemic had an adverse impact on identification of STIs, which may impede efforts to curb STIs and the HIV epidemic,” the researchers concluded.


—Ellen Kurek



Chang JJ, Chen Q, Hechter RC, Dionne-Odom J, Bruxvoort K. Changes in HIV and STI testing and diagnoses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Paper presented at: Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections; February 12-16 and 22-24, 2022; Virtual. Accessed February 17, 2022.