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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 4th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 31 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 31

Health officials blame lack of education for increase in STDs


Reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are on the rise again nationally, with cases of gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia increasing dramatically for the third consecutive year, according to a 2016 Surveillance Report released in September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The pattern holds true for Santa Barbara County as well, according to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, which said in a press release that local cases of syphilis have increased by 400 percent since 2011, while gonorrhea has increased by about 213 percent, and chlamydia by about 30 percent.

Chlamydia is still the most prevalent STD in the county, according to the release, with 2,294 cases reported in 2016. That year there were 316 cases of gonorrhea and 25 reported cases of syphilis.

Gail Bolan of the CDC wrote in the Surveillance Report that last year’s numbers are staggering for a nation that only recently had made incredible progress toward STD prevention. Not long ago, Bolan said, gonorrhea rates were at all-time lows, and “syphilis was close to elimination.”

“That progress has since unraveled,” Bolan wrote.

Bolan, in part, blamed major budget cuts that 52 percent of local and state STD programs faced in 2012, resulting in reduced clinic hours and screening for STDs, as well as an estimated 21 STD clinics closed that year. The recent increase in STDs is a threat not only to public health, Bolan said, but economic stability.

“Data suggest the direct cost of treating STDs in the U.S. is nearly $16 billion annually,” Bolan wrote.

To counteract the recent increase in STDs, the California Department of Public Health recently distributed $5 million in grants to local departments for STD testing, treatment, and prevention programs. The California Department of Public Health is also working toward improved sexual education in schools and to health care providers.

Susan Klein-Rothschild, deputy director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, said that STD education for health care providers and the county’s residents will be a priority moving forward. Although Klein-Rothschild said there is no available data that shows why STDs are making a comeback, a lack of contraceptive use and a decrease in screenings could be to blame.

Condom use is always important, Klein-Rothschild said, but screenings are key. The more frequently individuals are screened for STDs, the more likely they are to be effectively treated. Thus, she said, the less likely those individuals are to continue spreading STDs.

But in the Public Health Department’s 2016 Community Health Assessment of the county, 75 percent of surveyed residents said they had not been screened for STDs in the last year. The sample size for the assessment was 2,006 Santa Barbara County residents.

“A person with an STD may not know,” Klein-Rothschild said, adding that many people who contract STDs show no symptoms. “So testing and treatment are really important. If you are aware, treatment is effective.”

Klein-Rothschild said the Public Health Department uses a variety of strategies to stop the spread of STDs, including partner services.

Partner services, according to Director of Public Health Nursing Paige Batson, helps people who have contracted STDs reach out anonymously to their previous or current sexual partners.

Batson said when she receives an STD referral, she first confirms the diagnosis and confirms that person is getting treatment. Next she reaches out to the person undergoing treatment and provides them with general STD education. Then Batson works with the patient to identify any past or present partners who may have been exposed to the disease.

If the patient is willing to use partner services, Batson said she will then reach out to the exposed partners through mail, email, or social media, and let them know they’ve been exposed to an STD and should be screened. It’s an anonymous and helpful service, but Batson said patients don’t always want to disclose former partners.

“People report they’d prefer to notify their own partners, which I think could be adding to the increases we’re seeing,” Batson said. “People elect to tell their partners themselves, therefor it doesn’t allow Public Health to link [the partners] to services and ensure they’re getting screened. People are concerned with the stigma of having an STD.”

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