In the Umatilla County Health Department lobby, decorated with all kinds of Christmas ornaments and cheer, there reads a sign “FREE CONDOMS.”
department isn’t about spreading Christmas cheer with free condoms;
it’s the effort of the department to stop the spread of sexually
transmitted diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, the U.S. is currently experiencing a steep rise in
the number of STDs. The report notes that the number of chlamydia,
gonorrhea and syphilis cases have gone up significantly.
Menza handles Oregon’s HIV/STD prevention program. He said Oregon
is facing the same trend as the rest of the nation. There were 6,000
gonorrhea cases in 2017. In 2000, they had just 1,000 cases of the
disease. The number of gonorrhea cases is troubling, as the CDC
reported it had 555,000+ cases of the disease in 2017, with an
increase of 75 percent from 2009. The increase affected all races and
ethnic groups as well as both genders.
untreated, gonorrhea can cause arthritis, infertility, scarring,
brain lining inflammation and heart valve damage. When the gonorrhea
rankings came out in 2017, Umatilla County was the third highest in
County Public Health Department Director Joe Fiumara said the rates
are still low, but they are rising.
state is also seeing a widespread outbreak of syphilis and chlamydia
cases like the rest of the nation with chlamydia being the most
prevalent of the three. According to the CDC, there were roughly 1.7
million chlamydia cases in 2017 with just 1.6 million in 2016.
Syphilis cases rose to more than 30,000 cases in 2017 from just under
17,500 in 2016.
people believed in the 1990s that syphilis was eradicated until its
it comes to chlamydia and syphilis cases, Umatilla County is bucking
the trend – there have been just 264 cases of chlamydia this year
while there were 323 last year. There have been no reported cases of
syphilis this year, but seven in 2017.
course, not all cases are being reported, as some people don’t even
know they’ve been infected with an STD.
said it’s not uncommon for a person with an STD to have no
symptoms. They could have the disease before even experiencing a
problem for it. Fiumara encourages people to get screened regularly,
especially those at risk.
said the rise in STDs is the result of several things:
- Improved treatment for HIV/AIDS has eased people’s fears of dying from the disease. Thus, they are more likely to take riskier chances with their sexual health.
- Federal funding has been cut significantly the last few years for STD screening and treatment. There are less disease intervention specialists employed to help find people with positive STDs.
County’s health department employs a communicable disease nurse who
reaches out to the infected person through text or phone. Fiumara
said the nurse advises the patient about the risk factors and gives
them a chance to seek treatment. They also get partner information in
the hopes to have them tested.
and gonorrhea testing and treatment are pretty inexpensive, but
syphilis does cost more. Fiumara said nobody is turned away even if
they cannot pay.
course, Fiumara said prevention is the best way to deal with STDs
head-on. He said the condoms at the Umatilla County Public Health
Department are there to protect individuals from being infected with
an STI… not for Christmas decorations.
He acknowledges that they’re not 100 percent safe, but as close as one can get. He urges people to get screened regularly through their county health department.