Sexually Transmitted Diseases: The Silent Epidemic
The Rochester/Finger Lakes region has some of the highest STD rates in upstate New York
The incidence of gonorrhea among 15- to 19-year-olds in upstate New York exceeds the state average, with 377 cases per 100,000 teens compared to 314 cases per 100,000 statewide.
That’s just one of the disturbing facts in a new report on sexually transmitted diseases issued today by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. The Rochester/Finger Lakes region has some of the highest STD rates in upstate New York.
"STDs affect upstate New Yorkers of every age, sex, race, and socioeconomic status," said Dr. Robert J. Holzhauer, Excellus BCBS vice president and chief medical officer Western Regions. "Yet because of the stigma surrounding the diseases, it’s the one epidemic no one talks about."
The Excellus BCBS study, Reported Sexually Transmitted Diseases, analyzed the rates of infection of the five most commonly reported STDs among teens and adults ─ chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV and AIDS ─ during the period 2005 to 2007.
- Chlamydia was the most commonly reported STD across upstate New York, where rates ranged from a low of 181 infections per 100,000 people in the Utica region to a high of 407 per 100,000 in the Finger Lakes region.
- Reported rates for gonorrhea, the second most commonly reported STD, varied across regions. The highest reported rates were among teens in the Western New York region, at 583 infections per 100,000 people, and the lowest were in the Utica region, at 84 per 100,000. Rates for the total population mirrored the incidence among teens, with the highest reported rates in the Finger Lakes and Western New York regions and the lowest rate in the Utica region.
- The reported rate of syphilis infections per 100,000 people varied across upstate regions, from 0.9 in the Southern Tier and Utica to 2.1 in the Finger Lakes region.
- HIV and AIDs rates were relatively low in upstate New York. The Finger Lakes region had the highest reported rate for newly diagnosed HIV, with 9.5 infections per 100,000, while the lowest rate was in the Utica region at 3.9 per 100,000. Similar rates of reported AIDs infections prevailed, with the highest rate in the Finger Lakes region at 9.3 per 100,000 and the lowest in the Utica region at 4.7 per 100,000.
STDs are primarily transferred through sexual activity. Some are passed from mother to child during pregnancy, at birth or through breastfeeding. Most STDs show no signs or symptoms, so testing is often the only way to diagnose infection.
"Discussions around sexual health are never easy or comfortable," said Holzhauer. "Until we start increasing awareness around the importance of regular screenings for at-risk individuals, many undiagnosed infected individuals will put their health at risk by going untreated and will threaten the health of others by unknowingly spreading their infection."
Bacterial infections, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis can be treated and often cured with antibiotics. Viral infections, such as HIV/AIDS, genital herpes, hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV) are incurable but can be managed with medication.
Left untreated, STDs can lead to increased risk of HIV transmission, pregnancy complications, infertility and reproductive tract cancers.
The CDC recommends that individuals protect themselves from STDs by practicing abstinence or limiting sexual partners, using condoms consistently and correctly, and getting screened regularly.
"The takeaway from this report is that there are serious long-term health consequences resulting from undiagnosed and untreated STDs," Holzhauer said. "It’s time to stop being embarrassed and start talking ─ especially to young people ─ about safe sex and, if appropriate, about getting tested and treated."