Printed on: May 01, 2013

E. Idaho defies STD statistics

By NATE SUNDERLAND
nsunderland@postregister.com

Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that nationwide, the number of reported sexually transmitted diseases is growing.

But the reverse is true in eastern Idaho.

"Either reporting has gone down or (the local health officials) are doing a better job of educating people about STD prevention," said Nikki Sayer, nurse manager for reproductive health at the Eastern Idaho Public Health District.

Reported cases of gonorrhea and syphilis within the health district decreased by at least 50 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

One new HIV case was reported in 2012, the same as 2011.

The only aberration is chlamydia, which increased 4 percent, climbing to 342 new cases. The number of reported chlamydia cases in eastern Idaho has doubled since 2006.

Chlamydia is a group of nonfatal genital infections characterized by unusual discharge in urine. Untreated, it can cause serious reproductive and other health problems, including blindness.

But local case numbers may not represent the actual number of infections, health officials said.

"A lot of these STDs don't have symptoms, so people don't know they need to be tested," Sayer said. "If we don't test you, we don't know what the true prevalence is in the area."

The CDC estimates one in five people with HIV are unaware they have the disease.

STD reporting typically is higher among the homosexual population because gays are more aware of the risk of infection and more proactive about testing, Sayer said.

That doesn't mean infection rates are higher, however.

Many heterosexuals don't realize their risk of contracting a disease, she said.

Consequently, the health district devotes a lot of resources to prevention and education.

All local health district offices offer confidential STD testing at a low cost compared to a regular doctor's office.

"Our staff looks for any lumps, bumps or sores to diagnose an STD and then make recommendations about treatment," Sayer said.

The health district also offers clinics specifically aimed at teenagers and young adults from 15 to 24 years old.

An estimated 70 percent of new infections nationwide are reported within the high school and early college demographic.

A significant number of new STDs are discovered in teens and young adults through pregnancy or birth control consultations performed at clinics.

During evaluations, nurses determine a risk assessment for each patient based on physical symptoms and sexual history. If an STD is discovered, health officials work with the patient and investigate past sexual partners to mitigate spread of the disease and offer treatment.

"It doesn't help to treat one person with a sexual disease if their partner has it also," Sayer said.

Names are kept confidential, but all reported cases of STDs are submitted to state and federal health agencies to track the spread of the infections.

The health district uses tracking data to target problem areas and assign healthcare workers to improve education about the diseases in those areas.

The district encourages everyone to be tested for an STD at least once.

"You never know what a partner is doing, you hope they are faithful and you are in a monogamous relationship, but there could be some extraneous circumstances where you just don't know," Sayer said. "It is important to get screened, even if you don't have any symptoms."

Nate Sunderland can be reached at 542-6763.