April is Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) Awareness Month, an annual observance to call attention to the impact of STDs and to promote testing across the country. Over the last decade, Niagara County has consistently ranked in the top ten New York State counties for the number of Chlamydia and Gonorrhea cases reported annually. Since 2002, the number of Chlamydia cases reported to Niagara County has increased by over 90 percent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates about 20 million new infections in the United States each year, costing the American healthcare system nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs. The CDC’s newest data suggest there are more than 110 million STDs overall among men and women nationwide. This estimate includes both new and existing infections.
The CDC estimates half of all new STDs in the country occur among young men and women 15 to 24 years of age. Notable gonorrhea increases have been observed among Niagara County’s young adults. In the 15 to 19 year old female population, gonorrhea cases increased by 95% and among 20 to 24 year old men, gonorrhea cases increased by 130% in 2011 when compared to 2010. Gonorrhea increases are of particular concern due to the potential emergence of strains that are resistant to the only class of antibiotics available to treat gonorrhea. Surveillance conducted by the CDC found gonorrhea susceptibility to this class of antibiotics has been decreasing rapidly over the past decade. While an increased number of gonorrhea cases with reduced susceptibility has been documented mainly in the Western United States and among men who have sex with men, it is predicted this strain will spread east across the continent with a similar pattern occurring in the Canadian provinces. The emergence of antibiotic resistant gonorrhea points to a potential public health disaster.
Currently, STD caused by chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis can be treated and cured if diagnosed early. However, too many of these infections go undetected because they often have no symptoms. STD in individuals without symptoms can still cause serious health consequences. Undiagnosed and untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea, for example, can put a woman at increased risk of chronic pelvic pain and life-threatening ectopic pregnancy and increase a woman’s chance of infertility. In men, undiagnosed and untreated chlamydia or gonorrhea can increase the chance of sterility. STD infections also make individuals more vulnerable to co-infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS; this risk is 2 to 5 times higher in people with STD than in uninfected individuals. STD prevention links to HIV prevention.
Local health department STD clinics play an integral role in prevention and control efforts through the delivery of clinics and disease intervention services. CDC estimates show that 85% of the patients served by local health department STD clinics are at or below 150% of the federal poverty level. Local health department STD clinic services are also critical for serving the needs of uninsured high-risk persons 15 to 24 years of age.
Sexually active individuals should talk to their healthcare providers or contact the Niagara County Department of Health (NCDOH) STD Program staff about STD testing at 716-278-1900. The clinic is located on the first floor of the Trott Access Center, 1001 11th St. Niagara Falls, and operates from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday and Wednesday (except national holidays). Specialized staff provides counseling, education, testing and treatment for STD. HIV testing is also available. Services are confidential and free of charge.