As cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) rise in parts of Pennsylvania, the Wolf Administration wants everyone to be educated on the dangers of STDs and the importance of getting tested.
“STDs are serious diseases and it is important that everyone is aware of the risks and dangers associated with them,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said. “STDs affect individuals of all ages, but most of the new cases each year occur in 15 to 24-year-olds. It is essential for parents and guardians to have serious conversations with their children about their health, including their sexual activity.”
The department collects data on several STDs on its website. Cases of Chlamydia have increased by 25 percent from 2007 to 2017 and cases of Gonorrhea have increased by 17 percent during the same time. Syphilis cases have increased by nearly 300 percent; from 263 in 2007 to 792 in 2017.
In response to the significant uptick in syphilis cases among young adults, the department recommends special testing precautions for all pregnant women in the following counties: Allegheny, Berks, Blair, Bucks, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Elk, Indiana, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, McKean, Montgomery, Philadelphia, and York counties. The department recommends pregnant females in the impacted counties be offered a test for syphilis in the following situations:
- At the third trimester of pregnancy;
- At the delivery of a child; or
- At the delivery of a stillborn child.
This recommendation comes in addition to the statewide requirement for syphilis testing of all pregnant woman at the time of the first prenatal examination.
Due to education and the availability of vaccines, the prevalence of some STDs has decreased over the last decade. Cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) have dropped from 2,415 in 2006 to 991 in 2016, a nearly 240 percent decrease. Cases of Hepatitis A went from 67 in 2006 to 62 in 2016. Numbers of Hepatitis A have not increased much over the last decade, largely due to the vaccine available. Hepatitis B cases in Pennsylvania have gone from 1,509 acute and chronic cases in 2006 to 1207 acute and chronic cases in 2016, a 20 percent decrease.
Several of the more common STDs not mentioned above include Genital Herpes, Gonorrhea, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and Vaginitis.
The department operates the STD Program with the mission of preventing and intervening in the transmission of STDs. Part of that work includes partnering with local health care providers at free and confidential STD clinics which exist across the state.
There are a number of ways to lower your risk for getting STDs. They are:
- Abstinence: The most reliable way to avoid infection is to not have sex (i.e., anal, vaginal or oral);
- Choosing one partner and agreeing to be sexually active only with each other. It is still important that you and your partner get tested for STDs and HIV, and share your test results with one another before having sex;
- Limiting the number of people you have sex with if you have more than one partner; and
- Using latex condoms and dental dams the right way every time you have sex.
For more information about STDs, visit the Department of Health website at www.health.pa.gov or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.