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Echoing National Trend, Clark County STD Rates Increase

gonaherra.jpg

BSIP/UIG via Getty Images

A microscope image, magnified 600 times, of the bacteria that cause the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea.

Data from the Southern Nevada Health District say the rate of sexually transmitted diseases and infections continues to increase.

Nationally, Nevada ranked second in the rate of cases of primary and secondary syphilis per 100,000 people in 2016.

"Clark County is not unique," Marlo Tonge with the Southern Nevada Health District told State of Nevada.

Tonge said STD rates are up around the country, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking into finding out why.

Tonge said there are several reasons for the increase in sexually transmitted diseases in Southern Nevada. 

One reason could be improved surveillance tactics. Healthcare providers are doing a better job of looking for STDs and STIs, asking people about their sexual history and educating people about their sexual health.

Tonge said making sure those providers ask patients how they have sex is extremely important, and it was something that some providers were not doing.

She said knowing the 'how' means they can do site-specific testing, because sometimes a urine test will be negative but another test could be positive for an STD. 

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Another reason for an increase in sexually transmitted diseases is the rise of so-called hook-up sites. Tonge said there are dozens of apps that allow people to connect with others to have sex -- often anonymously. 

Some people who use the sites don't ask for a real name, let alone ask about their partner's sexual history.

"There's none of that conversation happening," Tonge said. "We know that people that frequent those sites are getting STDs."

Tonge also believes Nevada needs to do a better job of getting the message about sexual health to young people.

"We don't do a very good job of access to the youth," she said.

Comprehensive sex education is not taught at Clark County School District schools. Sex ed is taught in schools, but she said it is obviously not covering everything: 79 percent of the chlamydia cases in 2016 were young people between the ages of 15 and 29. 

Besides improving education, Tonge believes young people need better access to testing for STDs and healthcare professionals need to find a better way to communicate with young people.

"Our generation is changing," she said. "The way we communicate is different now."

She said research needs to be done on how to reach young people about the risks of STDs, how to prevent infections, and the long-term impacts, plus how to get that message to them through the communication channels they use. 

While the rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are up, the rate of HIV/AIDS is down.

Tonge believes the whole community needs to take the same prevention approach to those infections as it did to AIDS. 

"So that same kind of principles that we've engaged in, we've become used to since the early '80s -- now we have to put that same kind of emphasis towards STDs," she said.

She advocates talking about condom use, allowing for better testing and increasing access to healthcare. 

 

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Marlo Tonge, Southern Nevada Health District

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