Buffalo Trace District Public Health Director Allison Adams said the rising numbers are just another side effects of the current drug epidemic hitting the nation. She said people are trying to hide and feed their addiction, which is making it harder to find and treat problems like STDs.
Chang Lee manages the STD prevention program in Kentucky and said drug users are at a higher risk of getting an STD because they tend to engage more in risky behavior such as sharing needles or having unsafe sex. She said untreated STDs could cause other health problems such as PID (pelvic inflammatory disease), pregnancy complications and other fertility issues.
She said it can also increase their chances of getting HIV.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the 2017 STD rate set another new record, marking a fourth consecutive year of major increases. Kentucky saw a 62 percent increase in its syphilis rates between 2014 and 2017.
Jefferson County’s syphilis rates were the state’s highest in 2017, with 46.6 cases for 100,000 people. That is double the state’s average of 16.4. State officials also saw double the number of cases for gonorrhea – 361 cases per 100,000 people.
Lee said doctors often ask patients to tell them what is putting them at risk for catching an STD. However, in 2012, officials started to hear more instances of drug abuse about the same time the nation saw a score of deaths related to heroin.
Nursing supervisor for the Fulton County Health Department in Western Kentucky Debbie Barnes said many of the women she has treated are coming back over and over again with an STD. Barnes said, in some cases, the cases are so bad that women have become sterile.
Both Adams and Barnes believe some women are exposed to the STDs after they prostitute themselves out for the drugs.
Adams said many women are using their body as payment to score drugs.
Another reason for Kentucky’s higher STD rate could also be attributed to anonymous sex thanks to dating apps like Grindr and Tinder.
Julie Moon with the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department said people using these apps might not know the person’s name or phone number, which means they can’t treat the partners of the original patient who comes in for treatment. Moon said this causes the disease to spread and run rampant.
Lee said it’s many young people that are infected with an STD, but Fayette County is seeing a rise in infections hitting the 50 and older population too.
Moon said, in the past, they could target younger individuals, but today, they need to target all age groups. She said everybody is engaging in sexual behavior of some type and not practicing safe sex.
Blake Johnson works as the Christian County Health Department’s epidemiologist who said people are not comfortable using condoms and are afraid of asking a partner to use one. He said it boils down to a stigma.
However, a person who has an STD may also face problems in getting treatment.
Adams said many people are uninsured or can’t easily access healthcare, which is why many people turn to the emergency room for getting STD treatment.
Local health departments are ordered to follow up with any person testing positive for an STD. According to Lee, many people fail to get tested regularly to ensure they’re clean or not.
Officials said doctors in other states can provide treatments to both partners even if one person has been to see the doctor known as expedited partner therapy. Kentucky does not allow this practice, but it could help combat the STD rates.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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