Durham health officials fight STD trend
A recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has Durham County Public Health adding new strategies to increase screening for sexually transmitted diseases among its residents.
The report sheds light on the nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections that occur in the United States every year, costing the American health-care system nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs. Adolescents and young adults account for a substantial part of these infections. CDC estimates that half of all new STDs in the country occur among young men and women aged 15 to 24.
Durham County also has its own share of issues. “The rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia in Durham County decreased in 2013 but remain higher than those statewide,” said physician Arlene Sena, Durham County Department of Public Health medical director. “More concerning is the increase in early syphilis and HIV rates this past year. These increases can be due to more disease transmission in our community or increased screening.”
Between 2011 and 2013, the number of early syphilis cases in Durham County doubled, while new cases of HIV have increased by 24 percent.
Not all STD cases are identified within clinics at the Durham County Department of Public Health. Many are reported from primary providers or other testing locations. To assist with preventing transmission between sexual partners, a disease intervention specialist has joined the staff to help with partner tracing and notification for patients with early syphilis or HIV infection. Department officials have also requested data from the N.C. Division of Public Health’s Communicable Disease Branch to identify any shared risk factors or geographic locations among cases.
The Durham County Department of Public Health launched a new “testing only” service Monday within its adult health clinic. The testing-only option will be available to clients who want routine testing and who are not currently experiencing symptoms. This model of expedited care has been used successfully in health departments that serve a large number of clients.
The department’s Health Education Testing Team also screens individuals in the community for STDs, including HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, in addition to providing personalized and group education. Education and testing are provided in a number of settings, including clubs, parks, churches, jail, college dorms and campuses, recreation centers, street corners, stores and homes in Durham.
The high incidence of STDs among adolescents and young adults suggests that they engage in high-risk behaviors, underscoring the need for prevention, according to health officials. Abstaining from sex, reducing the number of sexual partners, and consistently and correctly using condoms are all effective prevention strategies.
Safe, effective vaccines are also available to prevent Hepatitis B and some types of the human papillomavirus that cause disease and cancer.
The Durham County Department of Public Health’s Adult Health clinic is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and provides screening, testing, education, treatment and follow-up for sexually transmitted infections at no charge, including those at risk for Hepatitis C. Hepatitis A and B vaccines for all patients seeking STD screening, and HPV vaccines for youths up to age 18 are also available. For information about the clinic’s services, call 919-560-7658.