Along with other cities around the country, metro Phoenix skyrocketed with cases of sexually transmitted diseases in 2017, resulting in public health officials to push prevention strategies and more frequent testing.
Continuing a years-long, nationwide trend, Maricopa County cases surged by 14 percent in 2017. In fact, there were 35,859 reports of sexually transmitted disease throughout the country—a whopping 31,721 case increase from the prior year. While the amount of new HIV infections dropped slightly in 217, cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis increased by double-digits. Pinal County experienced similar increases in cases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, causing public health officials to rush for ways to halt the increase.
“Our local increase mirrors the nationwide increases,” said Shauna McIsaac, director and chief medical officer of Pinal County’s public health district. “The message we want to get out is the importance of getting tested and treated.”
Prevention and testing are a necessity because infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis can be cured with antibiotics, public health officials stated. However, left untreated, the sexually transmitted diseases can infertility, pregnancy complications, or the risk of HIV transmission.
Officials also noted that young adults appear to be more willing to engage in risky, unprotected sex in recent years, which has resulted in the spread of preventable infections. Technology—specifically social media apps such as Tinder and Grindr—plays a role in encouraging risky behaviors among its users.
“We have seen some behavioral changes,” said Tom Mickey, a Maricopa County Department of Public Health program manager. “There is more anonymity with the app partners.”
The increase in technology has also created challenges for public health officials who need to contact the partners of STD-infected individuals, hoping to encourage them to be tested and treated. Unfortunately, many remain unwilling to be tested, even if serious health issues are at risk.
“Reproductive health care is a difficult conversation in America that people don’t want to have,” said Bré Thomas, CEO of the Arizona Family Health Partnership. “The real problem is people don’t know about an STD, don’t know how to get treated and don’t know where to go.”
This past year, Maricopa County paid for billboards, print, and online advertisements to get the word out on prevention. However, the billboards were removed in December, and the county now plans to incorporate less expensive, targeted outreach in 2018 due to budget cuts. The Maricopa County Health Department plans to purchase ads on networking apps and print out publications for the gay community.
“I think it is important that we get the message out, and we have to be creative in doing that,” said Mickey, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health program manager. “The advantage of an ad campaign is that it gets to a lot of people … That is why we do it. It’s just a question of whether we are able to pay for advertising.”
Pinal County also hopes to increase sexually transmitted disease awareness messages on social media sites. While the details are still in planning, Pinal County expects to launch the campaign in about two months in an effort to combat the growing cases of infections across the county.
For more information or to find a testing location, visit STDAZ.com.