A disturbing trend has recently come to light concerning the spread of sexually transmitted infections in South Dakota.
The South Dakota Department of Health has released the July 2012 Health and Disease Summary, a monthly report that records the numbers of reportable diseases in South Dakota from the beginning of the year through July, and compares the numbers to the average recordings found in the last five years.
2124 cases of Chlamydia were recorded between January 1st and July 31st, a 24% rise from the five-year median. Numbers of HIV/AIDS have risen by 33%, and rates of gonorrhea came in 58% over the previous average.
Perhaps the most startling rise, however, comes in the recorded cases of syphilis. Nine cases of syphilis have been reported in South Dakota in 2012. However, as the disease has been so rare in the area, this is a rise of 350% from the five year median ("July 2012 Health and Disease summary").
These numbers, and the ages behind them, highlight the importance of sexual education for people of all ages, and especially among teenagers and young adults. The new cases of gonorrhea and Chlamydia are largely focused in the 15-24 year old demographic, with 185 gonorrhea cases and 1530 Chlamydia cases. The nine syphilis cases, however, are all comprised of older adults, with six cases reported in people between ages 40 and 64.
The lack of awareness and education abut safer sex is reflected in these troubling numbers. In an interview with The Daily Republic, a South Dakota publication, state epidemiologist Dr. Lon Kightlinger said “People aren’t having safe sex…[State reporting] can go a long ways to helping stop these diseases from spreading, but it is still alarming to see how this disease can start with one person and spread like a web” (Huber).
Hopefully, unfortunate numbers like this can bring about the push for greater openness and education about the spread and risks of sexually transmitted infections. Schools need to be able to give their students thorough, factual and practical information about the sexual choices they are making, and parents need to be willing to have the conversation with their children as well. Only then can the spread of these serious diseases be stemmed.
Earlier this month, the FDA approved a new drug in the fight against HIV, one that lowers the risk of transmitting the virus to a partner. The drug, Truvada, is the first of its kind, working to prevent transmission in high risk communities before it happens. While this drug cannot totally eliminate the risk of contracting the virus, used in combination with other safe sex practices, this drug substantially alleviates the chance of contracting the virus. One study found that correct use of the drug lowered the risk of contracting HIV by 75% in heterosexual couples and 42% in same-sex couples. These findings mark a substantial milestone in the effort to reduce the spread of HIV. Many in the public health community are hopeful that the approval of this drug will be able to reduce the rate at which the virus spreads. Over the past 15 years, the rate of HIV infection has held steady at about 50,000 new cases per year in the US.
This month is the inaugural National HIV Awareness month, marking a new opportunity to raise awareness about the HIV epidemic in the United States. The CDC estimates that nearly 1.2 million Americans are currently living with HIV and that approximately 50 million Americans will contract the virus each year. What’s more, one in five people with the virus is unaware of their HIV status.
National HIV Awareness month aims to reduce the stigma that those living with HIV or AIDS often face, as well as to strengthen efforts against the spread of the virus. There are many ways to participate in this month: getting yourself tested for HIV and other STIs, HIV education, vigils, walks, displays, conferences and more. To learn more about how to participate, visit http://www.nationalhivawarenessmonth.org/
Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota offers rapid HIV testing throughout all its health centers. This simple HIV test uses oral swab of a cheek and makes it easier than ever to know your HIV status and protect the sexual health of yourself and your partner.
Moira, Web Correspondent, Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Datoka
In recognition of World AIDS Day, Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota (PPMNS) is coordinating events in cities throughout Minnesota aimed at helping young Minnesotans protect themselves from HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). From Minneapolis to Rochester, from Bemidji to Duluth – young people throughout the state will organize and educate their peers about HIV/AIDS.