Chlamydia and gonorrhea rates are going up in Lincoln – much faster than they are nationally.
The Lancaster County Health Department reported 1,345 cases of chlamydia and 390 cases of gonorrhea in 2012. That’s a 9 percent increase and 55.3 percent increase from the previous year, respectively.
The nation as a whole saw only a 0.7 percent increase in chlamydia and a 4.1 percent increase in gonorrhea rates during the same period. Nebraska itself saw a decrease of less than 1 percent in chlamydia cases and about a 5.7 percent increase in gonorrhea.
Chlamydia, a bacterial infection, can be passed from person to person by vaginal, anal or oral sex and to a child through vaginal birth. The majority of women may not show symptoms, and others may have mild symptoms including discharge and painful urination, which can be easy to ignore.
Gonorrhea, another bacterial infection, is similar to chlamydia but generally shows more symptoms. Women infected with gonorrhea may experience abdominal pain, painful urination and bloody or unusual vaginal discharge. Men may experience painful urination and penile discharge.
Both infections can be treated with antibiotics and if left untreated will persist and potentially turn into bigger problems.
The reasoning behind Lincoln’s increase is unknown, but it may have something to do with a lack of sexual literacy in Nebraska. Nebraska is one of eight states that doesn’t mandate sexual education.
“People don’t know what they don’t know,” said Pat Tetreault director of the LGBTQA Center at University of Nebraska–Lincoln and a former sexual education coordinator for the university. “What research shows is that when you provide medically accurate information and resources to youth that you have a lot better public health outcomes.”
Generally, more information creates positive outcomes.
Tetreault said more sexual education results in a delayed age of first sexual activity, lower instances of unwanted pregnancy and fewer STIs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that there are nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections every year, and half of those infections are people ages 15-24. These are only the infections the CDC can verify after receiving reports from local health clinics. Because of this, the CDC recognizes that there are almost definitely more STDs than its records show.
Douglas County has also seen an increase in chlamydia. Douglas County Health Department reported 3,281 cases of chlamydia with 55.4 percent of those cases occurring in individuals in the 20-29 age range.
“The biggest concern is that our rates are definitely higher than what we see across the nation,” said Carol Allensworth, the Douglas County Health Department division chief of health data and planning. “We’re almost twice than what the Nebraska level is.”
Omaha reported more than 158 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people. The average for the rest of Nebraska is more than 67 cases per 100,000 people.
In the past decade, Douglas County has been fighting the disease through education. Allensworth said there are widespread misconceptions about STIs. Many people she’s spoken to believe that birth control can prevent STDs. While proper condom use can prevent the spread of STDs, birth control doesn’t have that effect.
The CDC tries to stymie the spread of STDs by spreading information and promoting mutual monogamy.
Vaccinations for Hepatitis B and HPV are offered at most health centers including UNL’s University Health Center.
“The health center in general is a great resource,” said Lee Heerten, a wellness educator at UHC. “We have a medical clinic where students can get tested for all sorts of STIs and get treated for them.”
Results can be obtained from UHC’s lab, and any prescriptions can be picked up there as well. Also, free HIV testing is available every Monday from noon to 4 p.m., in the Jackie Gaughn Multicultural Center, Room 331.
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted bacterial infection in the U.S. About 3 million American women and men are infected with chlamydia every year, and it disproportionately affects people younger than 25 years old. It’s very common for chlamydia to show no symptoms – three out of four women and half of men with chlamydia show no symptoms at all. Chlamydia can infect the penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra, eyes and throat. Chlamydia symptoms usually manifest five to 10 days after infection. Women who are infected may experience a variety of symptoms, from abdominal pain, abnormal vaginal discharge and bleeding between menstrual periods to fever, bleeding after intercourse, swelling inside the vagina and a yellowish discharge from the cervix that may have a strong smell. Male symptoms include pain or burning during urination, pus or watery or milky discharge from the penis, swollen or tender testicles or swelling around the anus. Most symptoms are present in the morning and may be mild, which is why some people don’t realize they have an infection. Chlamydia can be easily treated with antibiotics, but it will persist if left untreated and can lead to more serious issues like an inflamed bladder or infection of reproductive organs.
Gonorrhea, colloquially known as “the clap,” is a bacterial infection that can infect the penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra and throat. Gonorrhea can become a serious health risk if not treated and affects more than 800,000 women and men in the U.S. every year. Four out of five women and one out of 10 infected men don’t display symptoms. Symptoms often appear one to 14 days after infection. In women they include abdominal pain, bleeding between menstrual periods, fever, menstrual irregularities, painful intercourse and urination, swelling or tenderness of the vulva, increase in urge to urinate, vomiting and yellowish or yellow-greenish vaginal discharge. In men the symptoms include pus-like discharge from the penis, pain or burning sensation while urinating or frequent urination. Gonorrhea symptoms may only appear in the morning and be mild, leading some to think they’re not infected. Like chlamydia, gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics but will persist if untreated. Because of increases in antibiotic resistance local susceptibility patterns must be taken into consideration when seeking treatment.
Herpes is a viral disease caused by both herpes simplex virus type 1 (generally oral) and type 2 (generally genital). Both are easy to catch and stay in the body for life, producing symptoms that come and go. More than half of American adults have oral herpes, and one in six people 14 to 49 years old has herpes simplex virus type 2. Millions of people don’t know they have either form of herpes because they’ve never had, or noticed, the symptoms. The most common symptom of oral herpes is cold sores or fever blisters that appear on the lips or around the mouth. They’re annoying but usually harmless. Genital herpes symptoms include a cluster of blistery sores usually on the vagina, vulva, cervix, penis, buttocks or anus. Herpes symptoms usually appear two to 20 days after infection. Medications can be taken to speed up the healing of outbreaks, and keeping sores dry can also speed up the healing process, but there’s no cure for the infection. Herpes outbreaks generally become less frequent and intense after a few years. Using condoms between outbreaks can prevent the spread of herpes, but doctors advise against having sex with or without a condom during an outbreak.
Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a slowly replicating retrovirus that causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. About 40,000 women and men get HIV every year. While some people may develop symptoms shortly after infection, it usually takes about 10 years for symptoms to manifest. HIV is a multistage disease and the first symptoms include swollen glands in the throat, armpit, or groin, also a slight fever, headaches, fatigue and muscle aches. These symptoms normally last for only a few weeks then disappear for several years. No cure exists for HIV or AIDS, but several prescription drugs have been approved by the federal government to manage symptoms.
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, has about 100 variants recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV can infect the genital area, and some types produce warts on the vulva, vagina, cervix, rectum, anus, penis, scrotum or in other areas such as the hands and feet. HPV infections are very common, and about half of all men and more than three out of four women have HPV at some point in their lives, but many people don’t know they have it. HPV infections are mostly harmless, but certain types can lead to cervical cancer. There are currently no treatments for HPV as most infections clear up by themselves. However, many health care providers can provide tests to check for abnormal cell changes that may lead to cancer.
—Compiled by Tyler Williams
Sources: Planned Parenthood, American Sexual Health Association