Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) have been on the rise in the US Virgin Islands (VI) since 2005. According to the VI public health department, the rate of common, reportable STDs, namely chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, is higher among young adults, particularly people aged 15-24. STDs are passed from person to person via sexual contact, which is why VI is reporting a higher number of cases across the region.
STDs are also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These are very common diseases that affect millions of Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Reportedly, STDs and STIs can be passed from one individual to another through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. However, these may spread via intimate physical contact such as petting, although this is more uncommon.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the most commonly reported STDs in VI, and both diseases are treatable if diagnosed at the right time. But, if STDs are left untreated, these can lead to serious health problems such as infertility among males and females and congenital disabilities in newborns. Gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause pelvic inflammatory diseases as well. Overall, STDs make it difficult for females to get pregnant or have healthy babies. Furthermore, STIs increases an individual’s chances of contracting or transmitting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) because STIs make HIV transmission much easier.
An important aspect to note about STDs is that they are generally asymptomatic. This means they may not cause any symptoms initially or just cause mild symptoms. Hence, an individual may be infected but unaware of it. That’s why getting tested for an STD is essential for every sexually active individual. It is twice more critical for those having multiple partners and men who have sex with men. Pregnant females should get tested for an STD in each trimester to receive treatment at the right time in case they are infected.
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According to the 2015-2019 STD surveillance data released by the CDC, the gonorrhea rate in males touched new highs in 2015, with 24 cases identified. The rate decreased considerably in 2016, with males reporting 21 diagnoses throughout VI. In 2017 there were ten chlamydia cases diagnosed in the state, and in 2019 this number again increased to 23. Chlamydia statistics for VI females is yet unavailable.
Regarding primary and secondary syphilis, which are the most severe infection stages of syphilis, VI reported 8 cases overall in 2015. No cases were diagnosed during 2016 and 2017, while data for subsequent years is unavailable.
Virgin Islands reported around 743 chlamydia cases in 2015, according to the statistics shared by the CDC. The territory recorded a drop in chlamydia diagnoses, with 571 cases identified in 2016, 458 in 2017, and around 537 in 2019.
According to the CDC, in the Virgin Islands, young people report higher rates of STDs than in any other part of the US. As per the 2009 statistics from the CDC, VI’s rate of chlamydia diagnoses among young girls aged 15-24 was 15.5%, which was the highest across the country in 2009, the second-highest rate was found in New Mexico at 14.4%. For males aged 20-24, the rate of chlamydia was higher as the CDC reported an astonishing 21.6% of cases in 2009l.
The rate of gonorrhea among young females was the fifth-highest in the USA in 2009 at 2%, and the region reported the second-highest number of HIV cases in the USA (per capita) that year.
According to VI STD/HIV surveillance report, during 2005 and 2010, males reported fewer gonorrhea cases than females. In 2005, males reported 24 cases, followed by 13 in 2006, 19 in 2007, 27 in 2008, 25 in 2009, and 49 cases in 2010. On the other hand, females accounted for 49 cases in 2005, 32 in 2006, 53 in 2007, 91 in 2008, 90 in 2009, and 87 in 2010. This trend indicates that between 2005 and 2010, nearly 72% of all reported gonorrhea cases were diagnosed in females.
Around 57% were diagnosed in people aged 20-29, and the second most impacted age group was 15-19, accounting for 31% of all gonorrhea infections in VI. It is worth noting that gonorrhea cases were higher among African-Americans. They accounted for 110 cases in 2010 compared to Hispanics who reported 23 cases, and Whites were the least impacted race with 2 cases in 2010.
According to the same report, between 2005 and 2010, around 78% of all chlamydia cases were diagnosed in females, and the 20-29 age group reported 55% of all chlamydia diagnoses in VI. The second most impacts group was 15-19, which accounted for 33% of all chlamydia cases. African-Americans accounted for the highest number of chlamydia cases in VI, followed by Hispanics and Whites. Around 179 males reported chlamydia cases in VI in 2010, and 436 females were diagnosed with the infection the same year. The black population accounted for 460 cases in 2010, followed by Hispanics with 115 cases, and the third-highest rate of cases was reported in whites with 10 cases.
The Virgin Islands Department of Health (VIDOH) Communicable Disease STD/HIV/TB Program works to prevent and contain STDs, including HIV/AIDS via disease intervention, screening, education, treatment, and diagnostic activities. It coordinates with the HIV and TB prevention programs to increase access to STD testing and treatment across VI. Cost-effective screening facilities and risk education methods are offered throughout the territory. Moreover, the program monitors disease trends and works with other health agencies to control the spread of STDs.
The program’s core objective is to reduce the incidence of HIV, STD, and TB by offering quality sex education, counseling, screening and treatment opportunities to VI residents. The Communicable Disease STD/HIV/TB Program receives 95% funding from the federal government, and grantors include the CDC’s Department of Health and Human Services and Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA).
Besides offering health education, several other initiatives are implemented to prevent STD infections in the territory. For instance, all pregnant females are screened for STDs during the first trimester, second trimester, and third trimester.
The Virgin Islands Department of Health Communicable Diseases Division (STD/HIV/TB Services) is responsible for offering extensive STD testing services for gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, along with UTIs and other types of vaginal infections. Testing is offered at designated sites on a walk-in basis, and dermatology treatment is offered to people diagnosed with molluscum or genital warts.
STD clinics play a crucial role in STD and HIV diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and care in VI. STD clinics operate all across VI and are essential healthcare settings for people who cannot otherwise access necessary treatment options. STD clinics serve individuals who aren’t already engaged in HIV prevention programs or the territory’s primary healthcare system for STD prevention. This includes uninsured individuals and people looking for confidential services.
Most people experience feelings of hesitation when going to get tested for STD, despite knowing they might have contracted one. EasySTD was created to change that.
Visit your nearest lab or clinic, order your home testing kit online, and follow the given instructions from an STD testing provider.
After ordering your STD test, visit the testing center to get tested or take a self sample including urine, cotton swab, or finger prick with the home testing kit and mail it back.
Receive the lab-certified results of your STD test from your test provider via mail or phone within 2 to 3 days. If the test comes positive, consult your doctor immediately.