It is a day Justin* will never forget – The day he learned he had Chlamydia.
“The doctor told me and for a second I thought he must be joking, like in a second he was going to be like, ‘Naw just kidding!’” Justin recalled. “And then the next minute my mind was just racing. I was angry and a little scared and wondering who I got it from and when. I felt gross. That week was easily one of the worst of my life.”
Justin spent that next week notifying a few girls he had recently been involved with both in an effort to figure out where he contracted the sexually transmitted infection, and to whom he might have passed it. Justin, it turned out, was rather lucky, in that he had not had the STI very long, and did not pass it on to anyone else.
“It’s embarrassing to have to call up a girl and tell her you have an STD and may have had it when you guys were together,” Justin said. “I don’t think I’d wish it on my worst enemy.”
Unfortunately, Justin’s is a scenario playing out more and more frequently as the number of Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis cases have been increasing in recent years.
“We are seeing an uptick in the number of people who are coming to the clinics asking for routine STD physicals,” said Emma Corbett, Vice President of Planned Parenthood, Mohawk/Hudson.
According to the Oneida County Health Department, the county saw 840 cases of Chlamydia in 2017, 163 cases of Gonorrhea and 5 cases of Syphilis. So far in 2018, there have been 638 reported cases of Chlamydia and 60 of Gonorrhea. Syphilis numbers will not be available until early 2019.
Numbers for Herkimer County were not readily available.
Cases of these three STDs, in particular, have been at a fairly steady increase since 2000, throughout the entire nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2016, a total of 1,598,354 Chlamydia infections were reported to the CDC. That same year, 468,514 cases of Gonorrhea and 27,814 cases of Syphilis were reported nationwide. These numbers represent a 4.7 percent, 18.5 percent and 17.6 percent increase, respectively, over 2015.
While those numbers are high, officials fear actual numbers of those infected may be even higher, with a lack of symptoms and a lack of easy access to healthcare being the most likely driving factors behind the underreporting and the increase in cases.
Some may experience abdominal cramps, pain when urinating or during intercourse, or a discharge from the genitals, but 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men diagnosed with Chlamydia, for example, have no symptoms. In fact, the most common symptom of an STI is no symptom at all, said Phyllis Ellis, BSN, MS, FACHE and Oneida County Health Department Director of Health.
However, the lack of symptoms does not equal a lack of consequences. Left untreated, STIs can cause increasing abdominal pain, swollen testicles, pelvic inflammatory disease, pregnancy complications and can even leave women unable to get pregnant and cause infertility in men.
“STIs are incredibly common, with some data showing that about half of sexually active adults in the United States have had or currently have an STI,” Ellis said.
“Talk to your health care provider about getting tested for STIs,” She stressed. “Testing is the only way to know if you have an infection.”
Testing for STIs can involve a urine test, genital swab or blood test.
“Patients sometimes fear STI tests because they think it’ll be painful or invasive,” Ellis said. “In truth, STI testing is quick, easy, and it usually doesn’t hurt.”
And if those tests come back positive, in the case of Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis, there exist simple cures if the diseases are caught early. Being bacterial in nature, all are fairly easily cured with a course of antibiotics.
The next stumbling block to getting tested, some find, is a difficulty in finding an affordable and convenient location to get tested and receive treatment if necessary.
“STI rates have been on the rise across America, and the biggest reason for that is a decreasing level of access to health services and STI testing for the average American,” said Ellis.
Many agencies are struggling to meet the needs of the populations they serve because funding for health care programs has diminished significantly over the last several years, while costs of providing care and overhead continue to rise at a rate that outpaces the resources available, she said.
“The more convenient and accessible providers can be, the better the health outcomes,” she said.
Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson, is funded to provide services to young adults in the Herkimer, Utica and Rome areas under the New York State Comprehensive Adolescent Pregnancy and Prevention grant, which means the agency provides free and low-cost testing, treatment and other services based on income.
* Name has been changed for anonymity