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Local, federal officials note rise in STD rates

The Daily Star - 10/4/2017

Oct. 04--Public health officials in Otsego, Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie counties confirmed that their rates of three common STDs fell in line with national trends, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of new STD cases in the country has reached an all-time high.

Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis -- sexually transmitted diseases that were at historic lows as recently as a decade ago -- have seen spikes in recent years, with rates of chlamydia increasing 4.7 percent to nearly 1.6 million cases from 2015 to 2016.

Some counties reported a jump over recent years in cases of chlamydia, the most commonly reported STD in the country. The CDC estimates that the actual number of new cases every year may be as high as 20 million, because the "silent" disease often has no symptoms and people are unaware they have it.

"I think providers are being proactive, and that's why we're seeing higher numbers," said Theresa Oellrich, a registered nurse and coordinator for communicable diseases in Otsego County.

The county has had a growing number of chlamydia cases since 2013, but Oellrich attributed the numbers to increased screening, including at school-based health centers.

The county put up electronic billboards on Interstate 88 and in Oneonta promoting STD testing during STD awareness month in April, she said, and the health department does necessary outreach to populations with higher risks.

The CDC has found the highest rates of chlamydia among young women, a group that has been targeted for screening, so an increase in cases may well be due to more testing.

"It's very important for women in particular to get tested, because it's so easy to get treated, and not doing it can cause issues with fertility," said Amy Gildemeister, director of public health in Schoharie County.

Public health encourages young women to get tested once a year, even if they think they don't need it, she said.

The State University of New York at Oneonta sent an email to students about an increase in cases of chlamydia on campus over the 2015-'16 school year and encouraged them to get tested, senior Andrea Meshefsky said.

The student health center has since expanded appointment times and done more tests for the disease, according to director Mary Mancuso. Young people are less scared to be screened, she said, and the center did 798 chlamydia tests last year.

Junior Emily Cremo said that she always opts to have STD screenings done during an annual ob-gyn wellness visit, and has found student health to be a good source of information on sexual wellness.

"I do think there needs to be more open communication about STDs," she said. "A friend of mine heard through the grapevine that someone she used to date had one, and that's not the way you want to find out."

Several male students were hesitant to talk about their STD screening history, and senior Brendan Fiorina called it a taboo subject.

"Men can be asymptomatic for so many things and just spread it around. Some think 'why bother getting tested?'" he said.

Other theorized factors in the spike of the three common STDs mentioned include cuts in public health funding that have reduced the number of STD clinics, an increase in condomless sex among men who have sex with men, and the rise of dating apps that have made sex more readily available and anonymous, according to a Vox article citing information from the CDC.

Erin Jerome, staff writer, may be reached at (607) 441-7221, or at ejerome@thedailystar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_ErinJ .

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(c)2017 The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.)

Visit The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.) at www.thedailystar.com

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