April is National Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) Awareness Month, and the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) is raising awareness about those who may be at risk.

Gonorrhea image/CDC
Gonorrhea image/CDC

Judy Nielsen of the DPHHS STD-HIV Prevention Section said there are many steps people can take to prevent STDs. “It’s important for Montanans to know that that STDs are all preventable,” said Nielsen said. “However, in order to prevent STDs, people need to be informed and take steps to protect themselves. We especially encourage people who are sexually active to get screened regularly since early diagnosis is essential in preventing transmission and the long term health consequences associated with STDs.”

To lower your risk, you can do the following:

·         Reduce your number of sexual partners or remain in a long-term monogamous relationship.

·         Talk to your partner about STDs and staying safe.

·         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.

·         Get tested.

·         Talk 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’re not comfortable talking with your regular health care provider, contact one of the clinics listed on the DPHHS website about confidential and free or low-cost testing.

State and local public health officials are also concerned about the rising number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, mirroring a trend seen at the national level.

Of most concern is the continued increase in gonorrhea which has doubled each of the past two years to more than 800 in 2015. In 2014, Montana had 433 cases reported and in 2013 there were 224.

The number of chlamydia cases reported in 2015 was similar to the prior year, but the general trend continues to show a gradual increase with more than 4,100 cases reported.

HIV numbers have been fairly stable. However, given the increase in other STDs, officials are concerned that we could see additional HIV infections in the next few years. Individuals with untreated ulcers from other STDs increase their susceptibility to the HIV virus.