By: Alexandra Morris
The most recent study for STD/HIV show that the South has the highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases among Americans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most STD cases reported come from people between the ages of 15-24 years, so, sexually active college students need to be more aware of the facts and more cautious when it comes to sex.
“People in the South often experience poorer health outcomes than the rest of the nation, due to multiple factors including income inequality, poverty, and high numbers of people without health insurance,” said Elizabeth Davenport, News Media Team Member for NCHHSTP Office of Program Planning and Policy Coordination Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These Three STDs Spread Like Gossip
According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, since 2013 Mississippi continues to face a steady rise in syphilis rates. The cases of syphilis recorded have almost tripled in the past three years. However, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea are still the most common STDs in the south.
“Americans ages 15 to 24 years old accounted for nearly two-thirds of chlamydia diagnoses and half of gonorrhea diagnoses,” said Davenport.
In Mississippi, for every 100,000 women roughly 4,300 between the ages of 15-24 contract Chlamydia, compared to the 1,500 men for every 100,000 of the same demographic.
According to the CDC, “Men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for the majority of new gonorrhea and primary and secondary syphilis cases (82 percent of male cases with known gender of sex partner).”
Davenport stated that the most shocking statistic the CDC has recently recorded is that women’s rate of syphilis diagnoses increased by more than 27 percent from 2014 to 2015.
“Honestly, I had no idea that contracting syphilis was still a thing,” said an Ole Miss student who contracted Syphilis and prefers to remain anonymous. “Luckily, I had a screening with my gynecologist not long after I contracted it and was able to get on antibiotics immediately. Yes, it was embarrassing, but it’s not the end of the world. I really just recommend people be more cautious about who they sleep with because people lie.”
The reason women are more prone to contracting STDs than men is because of their anatomy. The lining of their sexual organ is “thinner and more delicate” than the skin on a male’s sexual organ, making it easier for bacteria to be penetrated.
Everyone wants to know why these STDs are on the rise, especially the number of syphilis cases. The reasons are unknown according to the CDC, because they are only given “a snapshot of what’s happening with chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in the US; however, it doesn’t tell us why certain trends are occurring.”
The increase in Syphilis is stumping researchers, especially since penicillin has been the treatment since the 1900s. However, since all three major STDs (Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis) are all rising, researchers are starting to think technology has an effect on the outbreaks.
“I think people are getting on these dating apps because they know they can have a one night stand and not contact the person ever again,” said Ole Miss student Emily Smith. “I think that these apps have a direct correlation with the rise of STDs because people with STDs get on these apps for a quick hook-up.”
The US AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Rhode Island Department of Health conducted studies that specifically blamed dating apps like Tinder and Grindr, which simplify the act of casual sex between strangers. Unfortunately, their findings have not been proven to be completely true since the apps are relatively new and the outbreak of Syphilis has been occurring since 2002.
“While we have not found any direct correlations between dating apps and the rise of the three major STDs, some studies like the Rhode Island one provide theoretical reason to believe this assumption,” said NCHHSTP’s director Dr. Jonathan Mermin.
According the The Atlantic, CDC epidemiologist Sarah Kidd believes that dating apps pose a threat to the growing STD problem and that “it’s easier to meet partners and not necessarily have identifying information and not be able to track them down later.”
Davenport agrees and said that this is why “it’s imperative that people who use dating apps talk openly about STDs, get regularly tested and treated if needed, and reduce risk by using condoms.”
Dating apps like Tinder do not have a section where STD checks are to be submitted, however according to a news report from CNSNews, some dating apps have added a link that directs the user to a locator for free STD testing due to the assumptions that such apps are responsible for the rise in STDs.
As of 2015, the CDC has found that immigration, the rise in gay or bisexual men and women, and the increase of sexually active youth who are not screened or tested all might have a direct effect on the rise of STDs.
Ignorance Is Not Always Bliss
Most college students believe that once they contract an STD they are more prone to STDs, which is untrue. With proper treatment and future protection, such as using condoms and talking to partners about their STD history recurrence can be very avoidable.
“A positive STD test is not the end,” said Davenport.
Another misconception is that anal sex prevents the contraction of STDs. Actually, according to the CDC, gay or bisexual men in the US alone “account for 83 percent of primary and secondary syphilis cases.”
Many people think that STDs cannot be treated, only herpes and HIV cannot be cured.
It is important to finish the medication when contracting one of the major three STDs, otherwise they can cause serious health problems, “Many STDs are curable, and all are treatable. It is important to remember If either you or your partner is infected with an STD that can be cured, both of you need to start treatment immediately to avoid getting re-infected,” said Davenport.
Another misconception is that all STDs show symptoms, but Chlamydia is known as the silent killer because many mistake the discharge as normal or confuse it with a yeast infection. This myth is also proven false since people can be asymptomatic.
“One can be asymptomatic, although most have symptoms,” said Ole Miss Student Health Center Director Dr. Travis Yates. “We advise annual screening, and certainly screening after an unprotected exposure of concern.”
Lastly, many students believe that if they get tested at the Student Health Center, their parents will find out, which is not necessarily true if the parents’ insurance is not involved.
“All patient encounters at SHC are confidential; confidentiality is of high priority for us,” said Dr. Yates. “However, there is a risk in the event the charges are filed with insurance. In that case, the parents may later receive an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from the insurance company delineating charges and payments. We have no control over insurance companies. This could be avoided if the student requests that charges not be billed to insurance, in which case the fees would be paid at the time of visit or posted to their bursar account. Charges posted to bursar accounts are labeled as SHC fees generically, and are not specified as to what the fee was for.”
Let’s Talk About Sex…Safe Sex
Researchers are diving into the rise of STDs in the US, but the best way to end the epidemic is to educate the youth.
“Educate yourself regarding safe sex practices and practice what you learn,” said Dr. Yates. “Information is available on our website under the services tab. Sexual health is discussed in EDHE classes, and at many presentations by Health Promotion. We have patient info brochures in all patient rooms as well as free condoms, male and female.”
Education of STDs and prevention will help stoop the rise, but building the nation’s prevention methods and systems would also help.
“We have reached a decisive moment for the nation,” said Dr. Mermin. “STD rates are rising and many of the country’s system for preventing STDs have eroded. We must mobilize, rebuild, and expand services – or the human and economic burden will continue to grow.”
Because abstinence is the only fully effective way to stop this epidemic from spreading, it is important that high schools have programs to teach teens about abstinence and safe sex. The average age of sexually active teens is decreasing, and many sexually active students are uneducated on the dangers of unprotected sex.
“Young people that are sexually active face unique barriers to accessing prevention services, including confidentiality concerns, limited access to health care (no insurance or transportation), discomfort or embarrassment in discussing risk behaviors, and may have multiple sex partners,” said Davenport. “Parents and providers should aim to offer young people safe, effective ways to access needed information and services. Likewise, sexually active adolescents and young adults should advocate for their own health by seeking out providers they trust, following screening recommendations, practicing safe sex, and openly discussing any health concerns with their partner(s).”