April is National Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) Awareness Month, and the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and local public health agencies are raising awareness about those who may be at risk.
Judy Nielsen of the DPHHS STD-HIV Prevention Section said there are several steps people can take to prevent STDs. “It is important for Montanans to know that STDs are preventable and treatable,” Nielsen said. “The first step is becoming getting informed, then taking steps to protect yourself. If you are sexually active, talk to your health care provider about the need for testing. If you are at risk, regular screening is essential in preventing transmission and long term health consequences associated with STDs.”
Recently, public health officials are concerned about an increase in the number of syphilis cases in the state. The number of syphilis cases reported in the first three months of 2017 is approaching the totals reported in all of 2016. Thus far, 10 total cases have been reported in 2017, compared to the yearly average of eight.
Most of the 2017 cases have been reported in the more populated areas of Missoula, Yellowstone, Flathead, Cascade and Lewis and Clark counties, but there were also cases from the more rural areas of Stillwater, and Park counties.
Curable with antibiotics, there have typically been less than eight new cases of syphilis in Montana per year. Without treatment, syphilis can eventually lead to severe health problems in those infected. One of the most serious complications is congenital syphilis which can happen when an untreated woman gives birth. Up to 40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis die from the infection as a newborn.
Public health officials are also concerned about more common STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea. In Montana, nearly 900 gonorrhea cases and 4,400 chlamydia cases were reported in 2016. Reports of both STDs were slightly higher than 2015. While treatable, these STDs are being found in younger males and females, and can adversely affect general and reproductive health.
The number of new HIV infections continues to be stable, averaging 20-22 cases annually. However, given the increase in other STDs, officials are concerned that the number of HIV infections could increase. Individuals with one STD are at risk for others and some such as syphilis increase one’s susceptibility to the HIV infection.
To lower your risk of syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections, DPHHS recommends the following:
· Reduce your number of sexual partner/s or remain in a long-term monogamous relationship.
· Talk to your partner about STDs.
· Use latex condoms every time you have sex.
· Get the vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can protect you against diseases (including cancers) caused by the virus.
· Speak with your health care provider about your sexual history so that he or she can provide you with the appropriate STD testing and prevention guidance.
“If you are not comfortable speaking with your regular health care provider, contact one of the clinics listed on the website below about confidential and free or low-cost testing,” Nielsen said.