It’s a topic often discussed in hushed tones, if at all, but sexually transmitted infections will spread to nearly 20 million people this year alone and young people will account for half of that population.
Hoping to curb that number are several local health agencies whose limited resources increase public awareness and provide clinical testing for the potentially harmful diseases.
According to two reports in February by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, new national infection data suggests there are more than 110 million sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, among men and women, accounting for nearly $16 billion in medical costs.
Although the 15-24 age group represents only 25 percent of the sexually experienced population, the CDC reports the youth age group accounts for half of new STIs among the most common diseases. The youth age group measured 49 percent of new HPV diagnoses, 63 percent of new chlamydia diagnoses, 70 percent of gonorrhea diagnoses and 45 percent of HSV-2.
Two of these STIs — chlamydia and gonorrhea — are easily treated and cured if diagnosed early, while the vast majority of HPV infections, the most common STI, subside within two years, according to the report. Herpes simplex virus is a lifelong infection and can lead to further problems.
“Students need to not only get tested but to recognize their risk factors and use protection even if they’re in a monogamous relationship,” said Judy Lyle, interim associate director of Murray State University Health Services. “You need to really consider protecting yourself.”
Murray State has partnered with the national Monday Campaign and Calloway County Health Department to encourage healthy behaviors and provide free HIV and STI testing over the next several months.
To receive free testing, students can set up an appointment between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. at Health Services on March 5, April 8 or May 6. Both men and women can participate in the Man Up Monday testing.
According to the Spring 2012 National College Health Assessment conducted by the American College Health Association — which Murray State participates in every two years — of the 141 institutions reporting about 99,000 students, 45 percent of students reported having at least one sexual partner in the past year and 43 percent reported not using contraceptive measures.
Murray State Health Services most commonly reports positive cases of chlamydia and genital warts, while gonorrhea has increased in the last calendar year, Lyle said.
“For our campus, I don’t know I would call it epidemic proportions, but certainly it’s significant enough that we want to do campaigns like Man Up,” Lyle said. “Our students come from many different populations, both rural as well as large urban centers and from overseas, so you never know who they’ve had contact with back home that they could bring into this population.”
Lisa Bladon, a registered nurse at the Purchase District Health Department in Paducah, said most commonly the health department encounters chlamydia and gonorrhea, and increasing rates of syphilis.
According to 2010 CDC data about STIs in young people aged 15-24, chlamydia rates in McCracken County were greater than 3,000 per 100,000 population; gonorrhea rates were greater than 600 per 100,000 population; and syphilis rates were greater than 10 per 100,000. McCracken County ranked 11th of the state’s 120 counties in 2011 for STI cases, Bladon said.
The health department offers STI screenings for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia, and if patients exhibit symptoms upon arrival, they will receive treatment. Bladon said the importance for STI awareness can’t be overstated.
“We tell (patients) it’s very important, they can’t be too safe,” she said. “We have to use protection, and you have to limit the amount of partners.”
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676 or follow @WCPinkston on Twitter.