STDs spreading in four county area
Transmissions of two sexually transmitted diseases in northwest South Dakota reached higher levels in 2011 than any other region in South Dakota, prompting a call for help to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an investigation into how future spread of these diseases can be avoided.
The four county area, which includes Walworth, Dewey, Ziebach and Corson, confirmed 229 chlamydia and 80 gonorrhea infections in 2011. Statewide, there are 600 confirmed cases of gonorrhea and 3,049 cases of Chlamydia. The 576 ZIP codes, which also have the lowest populated ZIP code in the state, were especially affected last year. The ZIP code logged the highest rate per thousand in South Dakota with 33 cases of gonorrhea and 117 cases of Chlamydia. Native Americans are also disproportionately affected by STDs with rates of infection significantly higher on and around reservations.
To South Dakota State Epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger, these are startling figures considering the small populations of the four county area. The large amounts of infections and how fast these diseases can spread, he said, could indicate that these numbers may berepresentative of a growing problem in northwest South Dakota.
“It’s a very serious issue,” said Kightlinger. “Our infection rates in South Dakota have more than doubled in a five-year period.”
A CDC team visited South Dakota in June. In their report, the team found that infection rates were higher in the female population than the male population. According to the report, this doesn’t mean infections are higher among women since women tend to seek medical help more than men. Kightlinger said this is common since often sexually transmitted infections show no symptoms. Part of this problem, he said, is those infected may not be aware they have contracted an STD. As many as one in four men may not be aware they are infected with Chlamydia and only about 30 percent of women experience symptoms after an infection.
“Sometimes, a person may not even know they have contracted a disease,” said Kightlinger, “Symptoms range from intense to non-existent depending on the person.”
Kightlinger said that the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases typically occurs at fast rates. Small numbers of the population who have contracted an STD can easily affect larger numbers and being unaware of a contracted disease can lead to a host of problems. Those unknowingly infected increase their risk of transmitting the disease to others, who may then do the same to yet more people.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are treatable and curable if caught early, but infertility in men and women is common and stems from chronic inflammation if a disease is not treated in a timely manner. Pregnant women may also transfer STD’s to their baby during delivery. It’s for these reasons that Kightlinger urges the sexually active public to be responsible and aware of their actions and the actio
ns of others and also see their doctor to be tested regularly.
“People need to be aware that these diseases are out there,” said Kightlinger. “People need to be educated as to how these diseases spread and how to prevent them from transmitting to others.”
Kightlinger said the infections do not proportionately affect the population. Infections are particularly high among teenagers and those in their early twenties with infections at their highest in the 15 to 24 age range. These diseases are primarily spread through sexual contact and those who have sex with multiple partners or those who engage in sexual activity while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and have unprotected sex are at especially high risk for contracting these diseases.
However, according to Kightlinger, it is easy to avoid contracting these infections. Abstinence, monogamy, and correct and consistent use of condoms are all effective preventative measures that can be taken against the contraction of these diseases.