(Editor’s Note: April is STD Awareness Month and this week is Public Health Week.)
You might have seen the headlines — year after year Alaska is ranked
No. 1 for chlamydia. In fact, Alaska continuously ranks at or near the top when
it comes to both chlamydia and gonorrhea.
Women, young adults and minority populations continue to be disproportionally affected by these infections, and there can be serious complications.
Symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can range from nonexistent to painful. Most people never notice a symptom and don’t realize they have an STD. It is not possible to look at someone and tell whether he or she has an STD. Long-term infections may impact the fertility of both males and females. Human papilloma virus (HPV) causes virtually all cervical cancers and a large portion of oral cancers. Chlamydia or gonorrhea may seem benign, but they greatly increase your risk of contracting HIV.
The good news?
Each healthy choice we make as individuals can have an impact on the sexual health of our community and go a long way in preventing the spread of STDs
More good news?
Health care providers on the Kenai Peninsula are able to offer a variety of services to prevent, test for and treat STDs.
Visiting with a provider is an excellent way to assess your individual risk for contracting an STD. You also can discuss concerns specific to each type, whether it’s chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, syphilis, herpes or HPV.
The Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic offers walk-in STD screening with no appointment needed and will schedule a comprehensive exam with a nurse practitioner as appropriate. The Homer Public Health Center also offers screening, and both clinics have a sliding-fee scale. Men, women and teens can receive care at both clinics, and staff can discuss HPV and hepatitis vaccines. Most any medical clinic in Homer and outlying communities can offer screening as appropriate, at varying cost.
At both the clinic and the center we use the latest tests, which are more accurate and client-friendly. The dreaded swab for males has been replaced by a simple urine test, and an oral swab is available for HIV testing at the family planning clinic. Those who live in remote areas can order free test kits for chlamydia and gonorrhea that come in the mail. Samples on a swab are collected at home, shipped back to the lab for free, and results are given by phone. Order at www.iwantthekit.org.
Treatment also is available at our clinics. The ideal is for every person who may be affected by an STD to meet face-to-face with a clinician. But another option is called expedited partner therapy, where someone with a positive chlamydia or gonorrhea test can take medication to his or her sexual partner(s).
Both clinics offer individual and expedited partner therapy. Clinic staff can help someone who has tested positive for an STD notify his or her partners in a way that protects their privacy and makes it more likely that the infection will be completely treated.
Open communication with current and future partners allows each individual to make personal decisions about risk and exposure. These intimate conversations may be difficult at first but can be excellent practice for other potentially challenging topics, from contraception and condoms to monogamy and sexual orientation. One idea is for couples to come into the clinic together for testing before starting their sexual relationship. Other strategies may include reducing your number of partners, using condoms, and recognizing and planning for impaired decision-making if drugs or alcohol are involved. At the time of testing we can help you plan ways for reducing your STD risk.
As a community, we can work toward lowering our risk of STDs. Whether by taking steps to reduce your own risk or by helping someone else navigate such terrain, there are ways to make a positive impact. People at low risk for an STD can remove barriers for others by discussing risk reduction and local resources with a friend, a family member, coworker or a student. Business owners who would like to make free condoms available for patrons can contact either of our clinics and we will give you a supply.
For an appointment, questions or condom requests, call the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic at 235-3436 or the Homer Public Health Center at 235-8857. For a free at-home STD test kit by mail, order at www.iwantthekit.org or call 1-866-575-5504.
Catriona Lowe is the clinic manager at Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic, where she has been employed since 2003. Aubrey Ridd is a public health nurse recently relocated from Bethel and has more than a decade of experience working in reproductive-health clinics.