State and Local Health Officials Stress Awareness and Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are still a health concern and rates continue to be on the rise, according to officials from the South Dakota Department of Health and the Sioux Falls Health Department.

The terms STIs and STDs are often used interchangeably, according to Dr. Jennifer Tinguely, Chief Medical Officer for the Sioux Falls Health Department, although there is a difference.

“The term STI is broader and more encompassing because some infections are curable and may not cause any symptoms,” she said. “If the infection results in altering the typical function of the body, it is then called a disease. However, the important thing is that we talk about it. Certainly, it is a sensitive topic, but it warrants the community’s attention.”

The Sioux Falls Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) saw a record number of STI diagnoses in 2016, according to statistics from the South Dakota Department of Health (SDDOH). The MSA had 376 diagnosed cases of gonorrhea and 1,225 diagnosed cases of chlamydia. The rate of new gonorrhea cases in the Sioux Falls MSA has nearly quadrupled since 2011, while chlamydia rates have mirrored national trends. HIV and syphilis diagnoses were also at record highs, with 38 diagnosed cases of syphilis and 29 diagnosed cases of HIV.

Comparing the 2016 rates to the prior ten years, shows a 172 percent increase in gonorrhea and a 51 percent increase in chlamydia. The comparison also shows a 104 percent increase in HIV and a 280 percent increase in syphilis. It should be noted, however, that HIV and syphilis have lower case counts than other STIs; therefore, small increases in case numbers can lead to significantly larger percentages.

Numbers are on the rise across the state, says Dr. Lon Kightlinger, State Epidemiologist with the SDDOH.

“Gonorrhea has increased five-fold statewide over the past decade, chlamydia has doubled since 2003, and syphilis has increased ten-fold over the past decade in South Dakota,” said Kightlinger.

As of April 2017, the Sioux Falls MSA is on track for another record year, based on provisional data provided by the SDDOH.

“Sexually transmitted infections affect people of all ages, but we see our biggest case numbers in those ages 18 to 39,” Kightlinger said.
In the Sioux Falls MSA, approximately nine out of every ten gonorrhea and chlamydia cases are diagnosed in individuals between 18 to 39 years of age.\

According to health officials, a number of factors put people at risk, including having multiple partners, perceived lack of access to screenings, concerns about confidentiality and social media and the Internet, which has made it easier for people to find anonymous sex partners.

“Many people may not even know they have been infected because STIs don’t always have immediate symptoms,” said Tinguely. “However, by not getting screened, people are at risk for serious health problems, such as HIV, cervical cancer, or infertility. Individuals, especially young people, should get tested, reduce their risk behaviors, and get vaccinated against HPV.”

To increase awareness about STI and HIV screening, especially among young adults, Falls Community Health launched its “Protect Your Parts” campaign in 2015 to encourage people to rethink outdated stereotypes, challenge myths, and create a movement around education and positive action.

The Protect Your Parts website, protectyourparts.org, is the first public health website dedicated to locating HIV and STI resources for individuals within this region. Website visitors are able to find information about testing options in the area, use a map of locations to obtain free condoms, and take an interactive risk quiz.

Falls Community Health provides primary health care services and is a resource for people in the community looking for more information about HIV, STDs, and screening. The clinic also offers free Rapid HIV and STD Testing on Mondays from 3–7 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at their downtown location. Through a partnership with the SDDOH, the clinic provides free HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and rapid syphilis testing, if indicated, during the HIV/STD clinic walk-in hours.

Both the state and local health departments will be keeping an eye on STI rates, says Tinguely.

“We want to increase awareness about STIs among residents and health care workers to ensure people understand the importance of how and where to get screened and what they can do to protect themselves. Condom usage is still the most effective method of protecting against sexually transmitted infections and diseases for those who are sexually active.”

Individuals interested in HIV and STI testing should follow up with their primary care provider. Those who do not have a primary care provider can access the free rapid HIV and STI clinic at Falls Community Health or at the local Department of Health office. For more information about Falls Community Health services, visit www.siouxfalls.org/fch or call 605-367-8793.