County sees an increase in STD cases

Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 3:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 3:12 p.m.

In response to an alarming high rate of sexually transmitted diseases in Alachua County, the Alachua County Health Department is aggressively promoting awareness, testing and prevention.



What: The Community Mobilization Meeting to address sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, in Alachua County.
When: 6 p.m. Monday.
Where: Alachua County Health Department, 224 SE 24th St.
Information: Call Rebecca Tanner at 352-334-8855.

And the African American Accountability Alliance of Alachua County, or 4As, will be sponsoring a community meeting to discuss the issue.

Sexualy transmitted diseases, or STDs, is a term applied to diseases that are transmitted primarily through sexual contact, such as anal, oral, or vaginal sex, and include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, crabs/pubic lice, scabies, herpes, HIV/AIDS, and others.

To see what can be done as a community to reduce the incidence of STDs, Rebecca Tanner, health educator at the Alachua County Health Department, said a Community Mobilization Meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at the Alachua County Health Department at 224 SE 24th St.

Teresa Mercado, area 3/13 minority AIDS program coordinator and health education program consultant, said that when you look at the data, it shows that it's affecting the black community, with the majority in the 15-24 age range. In Alachua County from 2008-2012, figures show blacks of all ages accounted for 65 percent of gonorrhea and chlamydia cases in comparison to 21 percent for whites and 3 percent for Hispanics. For early syphilis cases, it was 68 percent for blacks, 29 percent for whites and 2 percent for Hispanics.

"I contacted the 4As because they have a voice in the community and they take action," Mercado said. "It's the best way to get the word out."

Juliun Kinsey, chairman of the 4As Education Committee, said young people across America bear a disproportionate share of STDs. He said the meeting will launch a new mobilization initiative to help those at risk remain healthy and prevent the spread of new cases in the community.

Kinsey said that according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Florida Department of Health, 50 percent of all newly reported STD cases each year are for those between the ages of 15-24 across the country. In Alachua County, 8,452 cases, or nearly 75 percent of all new cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea, were reported by those between the ages of 15-24 from 2008-2012.

"This information has gained the attention of our organization, as it should everyone in our community," said Kinsey. "We're hoping when we assemble at the meeting, we will create a list of goals and objectives and organize a task force that will quickly mobilize Alachua County to help prevent the spread of STDs."

Dr. Nancy Hardt, director of Health Disparities at the University of Florida, will speak at the meeting about how other communities are working to decrease STDs.

"We've identified the problem," Mercado said. "It's an Alachua County problem and all of Alachua County needs to be involved in some capacity. It's our responsibility as a community to bring these rates down."

Tanner, who provided an overview of symptoms of STDs, said the primary stage of syphilis is a single sore, or multiple sores, in the location where the syphilis entered the body. The second stage includes sores and a rash and the hidden stage begins when primary and secondary symptoms disappear. Without treatment, Tanner said, the infected person can continue to have syphilis with no signs or symptoms.

In the late stage of syphilis, which can appear 10 to 30 years after the infection began, the disease can damage internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints, and can result in death.

Tanner said the symptoms of chlamydia and gonorrhea are often very mild and hard to notice. For women, they can include painful urination, unusual vaginal discharge, bleeding between menstrual periods and belly pain. For men, it can include painful urination, unusual discharge and a burning and itching sensation.

Tanner recommends getting tested regularly for STDs, at least once a year for those who have protected sex and more often for those who have unprotected sex. A blood test is used to screen for syphilis, while a urine test is used to detect chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Tanner said one of the most important things parents can do is talk to their children about STDs. "It's a difficult conversation, but sometimes the important conversations usually are," Tanner said. "Having sex is not a required part of being a teenager."

She said reducing STDs is about education and prevention and recommended using condoms during sex, talking to your partner about STDs and testing and being aware of the signs and symptoms. "The most important thing you can do is to get tested," Tanner said.

In Alachua County, testing is available for free at 5 p.m. the first and third Thursday of each month at the Pride Community Center at 3131 NE 13th St. Suite 62 and at the University of Florida Mobile Outreach Clinic. The Health Department may charge a fee based on income.

In east Gainesville, mobile clinic locations are in the following locations:

— Alachua County Library Headquarters, 401 E. University Ave., 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesdays.

— Bartley Temple United Methodist Church, 1936 NE 8th Ave., 6-9 p.m. Wednesdays.

— Village Green Apartments, 3101 NE 15th St., 9 a.m.-noon Thursdays.

For more information, call Pride at 352-377-8915, mobile clinic at 352-262-0162, health department at 352-334-7900.

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