We encourage New Yorkers to stay active. But STIs are on the rise in New York City, so protect yourself and your partner by getting tested.
The city that never sleeps shouldn’t have to wait for STI results. Seek out quickie tests.
March 31, 2023 — Hooking up can be healthy and as New York City continues to reopen, residents have reconnected. However, new data show an increase in reported sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (PDF) in New York City from 2020 to 2021, likely due to reduced STI screening and testing related to the COVID-19 pandemic and decreased STI transmission in 2020. But getting frisky doesn’t have to be risky. The Health Department is repurposing its COVID-19 infrastructure to respond to STIs. Rapid COVID-19 testing instruments at select Sexual Health Clinics are now serving as quickie testing for STIs.
“Whether it’s a fling or a serious thing, STI tests are recommended for all New Yorkers,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “Less wait time means less stress. Our rapid tests help New Yorkers stay safe. Get tested today.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Department Sexual Health Clinics opened their doors for COVID-19 testing and vaccination. In 2019, the Chelsea Express Clinic launched a Quickie Lab, a state-of-the-art system that provides rapid testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea using the Cepheid GeneXpert platform, with test results within hours instead of days. The Health Department deployed those same instruments for rapid COVID-19 testing in the summer of 2020, and installed additional Cepheid instruments in other Sexual Health Clinics to expand rapid testing during the pandemic. The Health Department has repurposed those machines for rapid chlamydia and gonorrhea testing at the Chelsea Express Clinic and Fort Greene Express Clinic, with plans to pivot additional instruments to have STI express services at additional sexual health clinics in the near future. The Sexual Health Clinics continue to restore and expand services, including new PrEP continuity of care services at the Corona Sexual Health Clinic, mpox testing, treatment and vaccination across all operating clinics, contraception, and medication abortion.
“The sexual health and well-being of New Yorkers are key priorities for the Health Department,” said Dr. Sarah Braunstein, Assistant Commissioner for the Health Department’s Bureau of Hepatitis, HIV, and Sexually Transmitted Infections. “Our sexual health programming and services are focused on ensuring that all New Yorkers – especially those from communities most affected by STIs and other poor sexual health outcomes – have access to high-quality, affirming services and proven prevention and treatment interventions. We want New Yorkers to be sexually healthy – not only to be free from infection and disease, but to thrive.”
According to the Health Department’s 2021 STI Surveillance Report, STIs are increasing. This is likely due to a combination of reduced STI screening and testing – related to the COVID-19 pandemic when sexual health services were less available to New Yorkers – as well as decreased STI transmission in 2020, which led to reductions in STI diagnoses that year. However, those rates have since started to rise.
From 2020 to 2021, the chlamydia rate increased 13.2% among males and 5.2% among females in New York City. The chlamydia rate among females ages 15 to 24 years was significantly higher than that for the overall female population. In 2021, approximately one-quarter (25%) of all female chlamydia cases in New York City were among females ages 10 to 19 years.
From 2020 to 2021, the primary and secondary syphilis rate decreased 1.5% in New York City. While there was a 4.0% decrease among males, there was a 28.7% increase among females.
After relatively low numbers of reported congenital syphilis cases from 2015 to 2017 in New York City, followed by higher but stable case numbers from 2018 to 2020 (20 cases in 2018, 17 in 2019, and 17 in 2020), 2021 saw a substantial rise in congenital syphilis to 24 cases. This increase corresponds to a surge in reported primary and secondary syphilis cases among females over the same time period.
Especially concerning are racial and ethnic inequities in the distribution of STIs in New York City, which underscores that not all New Yorkers have access to STI screening, testing, and treatment due to structural racism, discrimination, and underinvestment in certain neighborhoods and communities. These factors prevent many marginalized communities from accessing sexual health care services, placing them at increased risk of infection and delayed treatment. Equally important is affirming, nonjudgmental primary care that includes a comprehensive sexual history taking.
In addition to ongoing expansion of its Sexual Health Clinics, the Health Department continues to work to improve the sexual health and well-being of New Yorkers. In 2022, the Health Department launched PlaySure Network 2.0, a network of agencies funded to provide a comprehensive package of HIV-related services in health care and non-health care settings. In addition to universal HIV testing, PrEP and emergency PEP, and HIV treatment, funded agencies also offer STI testing and treatment. The Health Department funds several agencies to support comprehensive health services, including STI services, for uninsured LGBTQ New Yorkers and in neighborhoods with high chlamydia and/or gonorrhea morbidity. Our Congenital Syphilis Prevention Investigator Program consists of specially trained Disease Investigation Specialist (DIS) staff who conduct syphilis investigations and partner services investigations among people who are or could become pregnant. Program goals include more timely pregnancy ascertainment and disease intervention, improved investigation completeness, improved adherence to mandated third trimester screening, improved treatment rates among people with a new case of syphilis and their sex partners, and more timely linkage to prenatal care. Finally, the Health Department is currently working to expand and enhance its Disease Intervention Specialist (DIS) workforce – including but not limited to DIS focused on STIs – as part of a CDC DIS workforce development grant.
STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are common and curable. However, if left untreated, they can cause lasting health effects, including infertility and chronic pelvic pain. Syphilis can cause vision and hearing loss, dementia, and paralysis, and can be passed from a pregnant person to their fetus (congenital syphilis), causing miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, or death after birth. Having an STI can also make it easier to get or transmit HIV. Most STIs have no signs or symptoms early on, so it is important to get tested routinely and, if indicated, treated promptly. Using condoms during sex can help prevent STIs, and PrEP is a safe and effective medicine to prevent HIV.
The Sexual Health Clinics and the NYC Sexual Health Hotline offer low- to no-cost services for STIs, including HIV. Anyone 12 years or older can receive services, regardless of immigration status. No parental consent is necessary. The Chelsea Express Clinic and Fort Greene Express Clinic offer rapid testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea. The Sexual Health Clinic Hotline is available at 347-396-7959, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For more information on the Sexual Health Clinics and Hotline, including services, locations, and hours of operation, visit nyc.gov/health/clinics.
Free condoms and other safer sex products are available at distribution sites citywide. To find a site near you, visit the NYC Health Map and select “Free Safer Sex Products.” For more information on ordering free safer sex products, visit nyc.gov/condoms.
“As we recover from the worst public health crisis of our lifetime, it is important to quickly respond to the increase in illnesses and diseases that are occurring in NYC, including STIs,” said Council Member Lynn Schulman, Chair of the Health Committee. “I am glad the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is acknowledging the public health need resulting from COVID and is increasing rapid testing to diagnose STIs and treat those in need of sexual health services.”
“Routine STI testing is essential for any sexually active New Yorker. Now that we are reconnecting again (in more ways than one), we must make sure we are eyeing our health as much as we eye each other. The NYC Department of Health provides a plethora of services which make monitoring our sexual health fast, easy and convenient. I want to thank Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan for their tireless efforts to keep New Yorkers healthy and I encourage everyone to be smart and responsible when it comes to containing the spread of STIs,” said Council Member Erik Bottcher.
“With sexual and reproductive health care and LGBTQ+ rights under attack nationwide, this STI Awareness Month is an especially important opportunity to outfit New Yorkers with the information and resources they need to prevent, test for, and treat STIs,” said Wendy Stark, President and CEO at Planned Parenthood of Greater New York. “The Health Department’s STI Surveillance Report unveils how STIs continue to disproportionately impact Black and Latinx people, the LGBTQ+ communities, and young people. Through community partnerships and health care initiatives based on equity, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York will continue to advocate for equitable access to health services and education that break down the stigma that causes barriers to care. Sexual health care is self care."
“As STI rates continue to rise in our community, it is vitally important that our local government continues the tradition of strong, collaborative partnerships with health organizations of all sizes,” said Dr. Marcus Sandling, Clinical Director of Sexual Health at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. “Engagement with organizations on the ground can lead to a targeting of resources and a tailoring of public health messages to better serve all New Yorkers, particularly the most vulnerable.”
“As the Director of Project STAY (Services to Assist Youth), which provides clinical services for young people living with or at risk for HIV, and as Principal Investigator for the NYC HIV/STD Prevention Training Center, one of eight Prevention Training Centers established by the CDC to provide training and technical assistance to providers and health clinics on screening, treating, and preventing STIs and HIV, I welcome the release of the latest STI Surveillance Report by the Health Department,” said Dr. Alwyn Cohall, Professor of Public Health and Pediatrics at Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “New York City is clearly one of the epicenters for both STIs and HIV. Pre-COVID, the Health Department and its clinical and community partners made substantial progress in addressing rates of new STI and HIV infections. The latest reports indicate a reversal of some of the previous progress, especially as it relates to HIV. Clearly, this sends a message that we need to regroup and increase support for initiatives designed to curb these infections which undermine the health and welfare of New Yorkers.”
“The Health Department continues to be an invaluable partner to community-based organizations as we work together to address the critical need for STI testing, treatment, and prevention education across New York City,” said Dr. Freddy Molano, Vice President of Infectious Diseases and LGTBQ Programs and Services at Community Health Network. “We continue to make important progress in our work to keep our communities healthy, but we know there is much more left to accomplish.”
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