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STDs increase for second year
Reported infections from three sexually transmitted diseases have reached record numbers for the second year in a row.
More than 1.5 million chlamydia cases, nearly 400,000 cases of gonorrhea and nearly 24,000 cases of primary and secondary syphilis were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015. The findings were published this month in the CDC’s annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report.
Nationwide, rates for chlamydia and gonorrhea both ticked down in 2013 but have risen steadily the past two years, while primary and secondary syphilis rates continue to rise steadily across the country.
In Pennsylvania and York City, the numbers show a similar trend, said Dr. Matthew Howie, City of York Bureau of Health medical director.
“We know it’s a need,” he said. “We know it’s happening, and we know we need to work on that need.”
The largest jump in cases reported from 2014 to 2015 occurred in primary and secondary syphilis with a national increase of 19 percent, followed by a 12.8 percent increase in gonorrhea and a 5.9 percent increase in chlamydia. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are the three most commonly reported conditions in the nation, according to the report.
Sexually transmitted disease, or STD, rates in York City are hard to monitor because the sample size is significantly smaller than state and national rates, but the number of syphilis and chlamydia cases in the city did increase between 2014 and 2015. Gonorrhea cases decreased, from 140 in 2014 to 101 in 2015.
York City and York County both have lower rates than the state for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, but Howie said that data is skewed by larger urban areas such as Philadelphia County factoring into the average. Philadelphia ranks high nationally for all three sexually transmitted infections.
Howie cautioned the numbers are raw data and actual cases in the city are likely significantly higher since many cases go undiagnosed and unreported to the state and local agencies tasked with collecting the data.
Howie said he worries about the effect of the disease on 15- to 24-year-olds and other demographics disproportionately represented in the data. Approximately half of the 19 million new infections reported each year occur in young adults between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the CDC. Many STDs do not show symptoms right away, and if left untreated, they can lead to infertility or worse.
“Knowing what we need to do, we need to swiftly move to address the issue,” Howie said.
In 2013, the Bureau of Health ended its expedited partner treatment program, which focused on treating partners of those who test positive for a sexually transmitted infection, when the employee in charge of the program left the bureau. A qualified replacement has not been found, but Howie said he hopes the department is able to open a dedicated clinic within the next year.
Testing: A statewide listing of STD clinics by county, posted on the Pennsylvania Department of Health's website, shows residents of York County have three options when it comes to getting tested for STDs, and they’re all part of Planned Parenthood Keystone.
President and CEO Melissa Reed said the medical center in York provided 4,660 tests and treatment for STIs and 807 HIV tests for 2,600 women, men and young people in 2015. “Comprehensive, medically accurate sex education” also was provided to 377 individuals in York County, and part of that educational programming is The Curve, an LGBTQ youth program that meets at the York medical center.
“What we’re seeing is not just that the rates are increasing but that young people do not have that information," Reed said. "This is important information for people to have for lifelong healthy decision-making.”
Pennsylvania students aren’t required to receive “comprehensive sexual education” in the state's more than 600 public secondary schools. While state statutes do mandate that students receive information on communicable diseases and HIV education, they do not require districts to set their own curriculum.
Public school districts often bring in outside organizations to teach lessons on STDs, safe sex and domestic abuse if staffing and budget constraints allow, which often means school districts do not adopt their own programming.
“We know the majority of young people become sexually active when they’re in high school, so it’s important for those folks to get medically accurate information starting at a young age and age-appropriate (information) as they get older,” Reed said.