Fewer chlamydia cases reported in Virginia in 2020, but health officials warn disease may be going undetected

Posted at 12:14 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 12:58:53-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Prior to the pandemic, gonorrhea and chlamydia cases were going up constantly and significantly in Hampton Roads, according to state officials.

News 3 Investigates wanted to know how COVID-19 is impacting this situation.

The Virginia Health Department said testing for STDs at local health department sites decreased during 2020, as walk-in appointments switched to scheduled appointments. They said the program also experienced several months of a shortage of testing kits for chlamydia and gonorrhea, due to the fact that some of the kit components were also used in COVID testing.

The number of diagnoses of chlamydia decreased in 2020 (40,807) compared to 2019 (47,467), while early syphilis diagnoses stayed about the same and the number of gonorrhea diagnoses increased by almost 10% (14,954 in 2020, up from 13,611 in 2019).

According to the VDH, based on this data, health officials will watch closely to identify any potential increase in STD diagnoses in 2021, as testing availability becomes more comparable to pre-pandemic levels and restrictions are gradually lifted.

Oana Vasiliu, a STD prevention and surveillance director for the state of Virginia, said gonorrhea cases are more likely to cause a person to make an appointment with a doctor due to visible symptoms. She said in many cases there are fewer visible symptoms with chlamydia.

Vasiliu said she does not believe there are fewer cases of chlamydia, but rather fewer people getting tested. She believes that many people postponed their regular screening appointment in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Health officials say they’ve been working with community partners to continue to offer testing, and say that much of the supply issues around the country have been resolved.

“The situation has much improved, I think it's almost back to normal now, so we're not really in dire straits anymore in that regard,” Vasiliu said. “Gonorrhea and chlamydia still remain very much treatable, and so is syphilis. It's really important to get tested, even if you have no symptoms.”

To learn more, visit the VDH's website here.