The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says one in five people have a sexually transmitted infection, according to new data.
Published in the journal “Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” the CDC estimates that on any given day in 2018 there were nearly 68 million people with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – revealing the burden of medical costs from diagnosed and undiagnosed STIs in the U.S.
The analysis found that there were 26 million newly-acquired STIs in 2018; one-in-two STIs were diagnosed in people 15 to 24 years old and the direct lifetime medical costs resulting from STIs acquired in 2018 amounted to $16 billion.
“The burden of STIs is staggering,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.
“At a time when STIs are at an all-time high, they have fallen out of the national conversation. Yet, STIs are a preventable and treatable national health threat with substantial personal and economic impact. There is an urgent need to reverse the trend of increasing STIs, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected many STI prevention services,” he said.
According to the new CDC analysis, HIV and HPV infections acquired in 2018 were the costliest STIs as these infections include lifetime treatment. Other reportable STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, have substantial medical costs as well.
Of the estimated $16 billion in lifetime medical costs from STIs acquired in 2018, most of the cost, $13.7 billion, was attributed to sexually acquired HIV infections; $755 million was attributed to HPV infections and more than $1 billion was attributed to chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis combined.
Nearly 75 percent of the $2.2 billion in non-HIV-related STI medical costs were among women.
The total cost of STIs far exceeds the medical cost burden estimated in this study says the CDC, which doesn’t include lost productivity, other non-medical costs and STI prevention.
The agency says COVID-19 has underscored the underlying effects of systemic health and social inequities that put racial and ethnic minority groups and other populations at increased risk of infection, adding that there’s an ongoing disproportionate burden of STIs among certain racial and ethnic groups, young people between 15 and 24 years old and among women, who account for a disproportionate burden of severe STI outcomes and medical costs.
To address the issue, the CDC has implemented STI prevention strategies: STI express clinics and partnerships with pharmacies to help reverse what they are calling an epidemic.
“Proven STI prevention – at all levels – is a cornerstone of protecting America’s health, economic security and wellness,” said Raul Romaguera, acting director for CDC’s Division of STD Prevention.
“There are significant human and financial costs associated with these infections and we know from other studies that cuts in STI prevention efforts result in higher costs down the road, he said. “Preventing STIs could save billions in medical costs, but more importantly, prevention would improve the health and lives of millions of people.”