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Sexually transmitted diseases have been sharply rising in the United States for four years now, and the north country is no exception.
Ashley E. Tracy, lead clinician at Planned Parenthood of the North Country, said she spends most of her day educating people about and treating people for STDs in her Plattsburgh office. Many sexually active people, she said, don’t realize how common these diseases are in the area.
Nationally, nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were diagnosed in 2017, according to preliminary data released on Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This surpassed the previous record set in 2016 by more than 200,000 cases.
Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are curable with antibiotics, yet most cases go undiagnosed and untreated, leading to severe health effects that can include infertility, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth and increased risk of HIV. The CDC report suggested factors that may contribute to STD increases include poverty, stigma and discrimination.
Not including New York City, 363 reported STD cases per 100,000 people were chlamydia, the most common and treatable STD in the state. Jefferson County’s chlamydia rate is the sixth highest in the state, with a reported 497.9 cases per 100,000.
Locally, Ms. Tracy said lack of access to sexual health care centers, as well as accurate sexual education, is a large reason for the STD increase in the tri-county area.
“Some people drive for hours to get to us and a lack of reliable transportation can be an issue,” Ms. Tracy said. “Also, having a health class in school does not necessarily mean you were provided with the most up-to-date, error-free information.”
Additional causes for increases could be related to people engaging in riskier sexual behavior, such as having multiple partners, as well as choosing long-acting reversible contraceptives that are only effective at preventing pregnancy, Ms. Tracy said.
She added it’s important to remember these statistics reflect only the cases of STDs reported, but most people with these diseases don’t know they have them. The services Planned Parenthood provide, in turn, are important in STD prevention because they have a focus on judgment-free education.
“Don’t assume your partner doesn’t have an STD or ‘it won’t happen to me.’ In fact, do the opposite,” Ms. Tracy said. “The thing I hear the most when telling people they have an STD is, ‘I can’t believe this happened to me. I’ve only had a few partners in my whole life!’ Get checked at least annually.”