Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sexually Transmitted Diseases Reach All-Time High In Iowa

Iowa Department of Public Health officials today are reporting that total cases of Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis in the state reached record levels in 2007 -- with some major spikes among teen-age populations.

"These numbers are not surprising to anyone who works in this field but they are alarming," Karen Thompson, IDPH's Sexually Transmitted Disease Program Manager, told Iowa Independent. "It's a pretty big jump and its something we're seeing nationwide."

The 2007 statistics show:

· 8,643 reported Chlamydia cases – a 67 percent increase in reported cases over the last 10 years.
o 74 percent of the Chlamydia cases (6,350) were in Iowans aged 15 to 24.
· 1,928 reported Gonorrhea cases – a 19 percent increase in reported cases over the last 10 years.
o 60 percent of the Gonorrhea cases were in Iowans aged 15 to 24.
· 64 reported Syphilis cases – a 52 percent increase in reported cases over the last 10 years.
o 52 percent of the Syphilis cases were in Iowans aged 35 to 55.

It’s notable that the number of cases of STDs in Iowa would be even higher if HPV and herpes were reportable diseases in the state, reports the IDPH.

Thompson said young people in the state are receiving mixed messages that lead to risky behavior. Many also are operating with mistaken views on how they can develop diseases. For example, Gonorrhea can be contracted in the throat through oral sex.

She said IDPH has no data on spikes in oral and anal sex but "we hear about increases."

The issues of STDs is not only stigmatized but highly politicized as well, with groups on the Christian Right calling for abstinence-only education and blaming increases in disease on sex education, Hollywood and the Internet. The political left hits right back with it's own case, arguing that ignorance of basic science and reproductive health facts breeds the numbers Iowa sees now.

Thompson said the state should have a standardized education program for young people.

"Something fairly standardized that sends the same message to youth is a good idea," she said.

There's reason to believe 2008 could be worse for STDs in Iowa as people in the wake of the flooding may be more inclined to make the sorts of poor decisions that lead to STDs, Thompson said

"We saw a spike with Katrina," she said of the Gulf Coast hurricane.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate up to half of STDs go undiagnosed. This is common because people may be unaware they have an STD. The initial signs and symptoms are often invisible, but the infection is still doing damage internally. Untreated STDs can cause rashes, sores, abdominal pain, surgery, infertility and even death. While many STDs are curable, any damage done to the body cannot be undone. The American Social Health Association estimates that every dollar spent on STD prevention saves $43 in the costs of STD-related complications.

This story cross-posted at Iowa

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