Rise in STDs prompts concern
By MAKAYLA TENDALL
After noticing a lack in resources, Greene County Public Health will provide an STD screening service to residents that will be ready in late October.
Greene County ranks second for the most sexually transmitted diseases out of the nine counties that use a Webster County maternal/child health program, with a rate of 407 cases out of 100,000 people.
Webster County, with a higher population, ranks first with 523.5 cases out of 100,000.
In 2012, Greene County had 33 diagnosed cases of chlamydia and 20 cases in 2013. Five cases of gonorrhea were reported in 2012, as well, with zero in 2013.
“Not a proud moment,” Becky Wolf, director of Greene County Public Health, said when she learned the statistics. “Even if you’ve got 20 cases, how many sex partners are involved?”
Due to a lack of funding, many public facilities around the state — especially in rural areas — are cutting back on hours or closing, so the Iowa Department of Public Health must find a new way to reach residents to keep them STD free.
It wasn’t until the department saw an increase in STDs reported in less-populated counties and began to work with them that Wolf decided there was a need for a screening clinic in Greene County.
“It just hit me, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we need to do something,’ ” Wolf said.
On Tuesday, Wolf met with the state to begin planning a screening facility that will be open in late fall.
As an extension to the maternal/child health program, the facility will provide screenings for Greene County residents concerned that they may have an STD. The Public Health program will work with patients’ insurance providers, and provide free screenings for those who don’t have insurance.
While the number of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases has increased only slightly in the last five years, it’s still a concern, Wolf said.
Wolf and George Walton, STD program manager at the Iowa Department of Public Health, said they’re unsure whether the rise in cases occurred because of more screenings or simply because of increased infection.
However, both said a screening facility to diagnose STDs is very effective — especially for a county that has few family planning programs such as Planned Parenthood — in stopping the spread.
“What do they say about STDs: You sleep with your history,” Wolf said. “If people don’t get diagnosed, they can’t get treated, and then it’s more easily spread. Why keep re-infecting?”
Primary STDs can be uncomfortable initially, but without treatment, they can cause more than just discomfort.
“Eventually, for most people, your body will clear it, but the key thing to remember with that is maybe a few years later, it still can do some pretty bad damage to your body if you don’t get it treated right away,” Walton said.
Both men and women face infertility with an untreated STD.
Women also face pregnancy complications, including spreading the disease to infants during birth, and pelvic inflammatory disease — leading to scar tissue formation on reproductive organs.
Men face swollen testicles and other complications.
Those under 25 are at a much higher risk of contracting an STD. Seventy percent of chlamydia cases and 50 percent of gonorrhea cases affect those under 25.
Walton said the problem isn’t just sexual promiscuity during that age. That group tends to choose sexual partners in that range, spreading the disease even more.
The most effective — yet unrealistic — way to stop disease is abstinence.
Condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can prevent contraction but are not foolproof.
However, routine screening at least once a year curbs the spread and leads to treatment.
“Limiting the number of sex partners can help, making sure you’re in a mutually monogamous relationship. With that, you’d have to make sure you’re both uninfected, so you’d want to make sure both of you get screened pretty early in the relationship to make sure that neither one of you has the infection,” Walton said. “If you do, then it’s pretty easy to treat once you identify it.
“The thing that’s pretty underutilized is routine screening.”
Once a person knows they are infected, Walton said they strongly recommend they contact all sexual partners and inform them — a conversation which could bring a lot of shame and embarrassed mumbling.
The Partner Services Program from the IDPH allows patients and medical care providers to contact their six Disease Prevention Specialists, and those infected will be able to tell the DPSs about their sexual partners. The DPSs will contact partners and recommend that they get tested, all with complete anonymity for the infected person.
Both Walton and Wolf said the new screening facility will also focus on educating patients and community members on how to stop contraction and spreading STDs.