Austin STD rates on the rise

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As many Austinites have spent endless dreary months disconnected and eager to live as we knew it, a number of illnesses also took a brief hiatus in the pandemic’s first year. The flu, for example, has all but disappeared. But not sexually transmitted diseases, which rests on a solid foundation that is only increasing every year. “COVID hasn’t stopped people from having sex,” says Steven Tamayo, awareness and testing manager at the Kind Clinic, a local sexual health and wellness clinic. “It just changed How? ‘Or’ What they had sex.

In case you were not sure, wearing face masks and putting them outside does not stop STDs. Last year, according to Tamayo, Kind Clinic examined more than 2,300 people. Over 200 tests were positive for chlamydia, nearly 200 were positive for gonorrhea, and over 60 were positive for syphilis. “And it was in the middle of a pandemic,” he says.

Steven Tamayo, Testing Manager at the Kind Clinic.

Not surprisingly, demand for STD tests at the clinic’s walk-in site in North Austin, which offers the service free of charge, has increased as the vaccines roll out. By June of this year, the clinic had screened more than 3,000 people, diagnosing and treating hundreds of positive cases.

Austin isn’t the only one facing a relentless stream of STDs. In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that STD cases in the United States reached an all-time high in 2019 for the sixth consecutive year. Using this data from the CDC, California-based research firm Innerbody Research ranked the top 100 U.S. cities in terms of STD rates. Austin arrived at 62.

The most frequently reported illnesses, with 2.5 million cases, were chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, the latter that the United States was actually set to eliminate just 20 years ago. The three STDs have been on the rise in Texas for years, according to the latest data from state health officials. Illnesses can have serious consequences, including infertility or serious pregnancy complications, if left untreated. Letting them circulate without stronger intervention may also mean fewer treatment options in the future, as conditions like gonorrhea develop resistance to the drugs that treat it.

“Knock on wood, we haven’t seen it in Texas yet,” says Elizabeth Cardwell, senior clinician at Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which has seen an increase in STD cases in all communities served by its clinics, “but it is a smart bug and continues to mutate.

Many of the factors behind these record rates are the same factors that have historically held back the prevention of STDs, namely stigma and access to care, says Paige Padgett Wermuth, assistant professor at the UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston.

At the same time, she says, it’s probably no coincidence that STD rates are rising while investments in prevention decline. An analysis by the National Coalition of STD Directors found that federal funding for STDs has declined by 40% in purchasing power since 2003, meaning people on the front lines in local health services are facing high rates. crescents with stagnant resources.

The Affordable Care Act increased insurance coverage for STD tests, but Wermuth says less dollars for public STD clinics, which often specialize in confidential, gender-positive care, ends up leaving a lot with no testing options they feel safe about.

At Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which has four clinics within the city limits of Austin, the highest number of diagnosed STD cases is typically among those aged 18 to 25, Cardwell explains. And while the demand for STD services declined dramatically in the first year of the pandemic, it was almost back to original levels this summer.

Fortunately, help may finally be on the way. Last November, for the first time in more than two decades, the Texas State Board of Education revised its sex education curriculum. Right now, the majority of school districts in Texas either do not teach sex education or focus solely on abstinence, according to Jen Biundo, director of policy and data for the Austin-based Texas Campaign to Prevent Sexual Abuse. teenage pregnancy. (The Austin Independent School District already has a fairly comprehensive sex education program that covers STDs.)

With the new Texas curriculum standards, which come into effect in 2022, all students are expected to receive basic sexual health education. “For many children, this will be the very first time they will receive medically accurate information about STDs and their prevention,” says JR Chester, project manager of the campaign. “To take the shame out of this is a huge factor.”

The funding situation could also change. President Biden’s US bailout has used billions of dollars to hire more public health workers, who are typically responsible for preventing and controlling STDs at the local level, when not faced with a pandemic raging. There are also proposals to Congress to increase CDC STD funding.

More resources could not come soon enough. Experts like Wermuth say that even though data from 2020 shows COVID-19 has blunted the trajectory of STDs, it’s likely only a brief pause. “That’s the problem with STDs – there will always be sex, so they always prepare. “

SEX ED

A brief overview of the STD numbers in the city.

No. 62: Where Austin ranks among the US cities with the highest rates of STDs.

1,247: Number of STDs per 100,000 Austin residents in 2019.

34%: The combined total of STDs increased in Travis County from 2014 to 2018.

18-25 years: Austin’s age group with the most STDs among those tested at Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas clinics.


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