STD numbers continue to increase across Augusta area

October 3, 2018

Article published in the Augusta Chronicle.

Since 2013, the number of sexually transmitted diseases have continually increased in Richmond and Columbia counties, raising concerns with public health officials in the area.

“We’re definitely concerned. I think this is something that concerns public health officials nationally,” Dr. Stephen Goggans, district health director for East Central Health District said.

In Richmond County, the number of STD cases saw a large increase in 2017 from 2016 after seeing a slight decrease from the previous year. According to data from the Georgia Department of Health, there were 3,605 STDs cases in the county, with the majority being chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Goggans feels that the slight decrease in 2016 compared to 2015 was due to a variability in the numbers, but the increase in 2017 was part of a trend being seen, not only at the local level, but nationally. In Richmond County, the number of cases has gone up four of the past five years, while Columbia County has seen five consecutive years of increase. Nationally, STD cases have steadily risen since 2013, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Goggans said the numbers have been increasing in Richmond County and throughout the state for almost 10 years and it’s expected to continue to increase. He attributes the increase to more people having unprotected sex.

The health department has sought to educate people about safe sex behavior and encourage testing for STDs. Goggans feels that testing to identify people who have been infected and treating them can limit the spread of STDs. The younger population is at high risk of getting infected with STDs, according to Goggans.

“It seems like the peak of the increase and the highest rates of infections are happening in people approximately from 15 to 30, but the highest of those even are maybe between 18 and early 20s,” Goggans said.

Of the 3,605 STDs cases in Richmond County last year, around 64 percent were for people between the ages of 10 to 24, according to state department of health data. Goggans said a possible link to the increase in sexually transmitted diseases could be more people using dating apps and social media, leading to unsafe sex among people who don’t know a lot about each other’s history.

Goggans said the MSM population, men who have sex with men, are at a high risk for transmission of HIV and for other STDs. He said that they are seeing a high rate of syphilis being co-infected with HIV in this group.

Goggans feels testing is essential in reducing the numbers. Raven Wells, community outreach coordinator for Augusta University’s Ryan White Program, said the biggest roadblocks to reducing the number of HIV and STDs in the area are the lack of testing for STDs and education about the diseases.

“We have a really big issue with people just recognizing that it can be considered a normal healthcare screening, instead of something that you have to have done because you were doing something terrible,” Wells said, noting that the Ryan White Program aims to ensure access to healthcare and reduce disparities, particularly for people living with HIV and AIDS.

One of the ways people can reduce the likelihood of getting infected with HIV is through PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medicine that can reduce the chance of people who have very high risk for HIV from being infected. It does not, said Goggans, protect from other STDs.

“I think from a strictly HIV standpoint someone who is eligible for PrEP and is at risk of HIV infection that would be a very good option for them to consider,” Goggans said. “At the same time, it’s important to know that PrEP does not prevent the spread of other sexually transmitted infections.”

To help avoid infections, Wells said people need to practice safe sex.

“We don’t try to tell people not to partake in the things that they want to partake in, but they need to figure out a way in that activity to minimize their risk,” she said. “You have to come up with something that’s realistic for yourself. Abstinence is great, but it’s something that everybody’s not going to be willing to do.”

 

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