Thomas Martinko: Get your kids tested

Published: Monday, May 13, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 8:49 p.m.

The recent headline about Alachua County being the fourth highest in the state for sexually transmitted infections got a lot of attention. But it is not surprising.

The standard across the country is for those diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases to have a contact interview. The interview is to determine who they may have gotten it from and anyone they may have given it to. That way, those people can be tested and treated. Then their contacts can be tracked down, tested and treated — and so on.

The problem is that the health department only has seven people for a 16-county area to find the sexual contacts. It is not that the health department does not know what to do, but rather that they are terribly underfunded.

The bulk of the sexually transmitted diseases are in the 15- to 24-year-old age group. Young people who are sexually active should be tested annually for sexually transmitted infections.

Most people who have infections have no symptoms. If they wait until they have pain, fever or a discharge, the infection is already causing damage that may impact them for years.

Testing used to be quite uncomfortable. Now the test can be done off of a urine sample for gonorrhea and chlamydia. HIV/AIDS and syphilis require a simple blood test. Young people should request to be tested if their doctor or other provider doesn't ask them about it during their annual physical.

If we can get people tested and diagnosed, they can get treated before the diseases spread to others. This is an epidemic which can be curbed. If the person lacks insurance, they can go to the health department to be screened. They can go to the mobile free clinics. But the key is to be tested.

Don't just sit back and shake your head at the statistics. Do something about it. Tell your state representatives to give the health departments the resources they need. In the meantime, get yourself or your kids tested.

Dr. Thomas Martinko is director of adolescent medicine at the University of Florida.

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