Iowa Department of Public Health officials have reported that total
cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in the state reached record
levels in 2007 — with some major spikes among teen-age populations.
"These numbers are not surprising to anyone who works in this field,
but they are alarming," Karen Thompson, IDPH’s sexually transmitted
disease program manager, told Iowa Independent. "It’s a pretty big
jump, and it’s something we’re seeing nationwide."
The 2007 statistics show:
- 8,643 reported chlamydia cases – a 67 percent increase in reported cases over the last 10 years.
- 74 percent of the chlamydia cases (6,350) were in Iowans age 15 to 24.
- 1,928 reported gonorrhea cases – a 19 percent increase in reported cases over the last 10 years.
- 60 percent of the gonorrhea cases were in Iowans age 15 to 24.
- 64 reported syphilis cases – a 52 percent increase in reported cases over the last 10 years.
- 52 percent of the syphilis cases were in Iowans age 35 to 55.
It’s notable that the number of cases of STDs in Iowa would be even
higher if HPV and herpes were reportable diseases in the state,
according to the IDPH.
Thompson said young people in the state receive mixed messages that
lead to risky behavior. Many also operate with mistaken views on how
they can develop diseases. For example, despite common misconceptions
that oral sex is safer, gonorrhea can be contracted in the throat
through oral sex.
She said IDPH has no data on spikes in oral and anal sex but "we hear about increases."
The issues of STDs is not only stigmatized but highly politicized as
well, with groups on the Christian right calling for abstinence-only
education and blaming increases in disease on sex education, Hollywood
and the Internet. The political left hits right back with its own case,
arguing that ignorance of basic science and reproductive health facts
breeds the numbers Iowa sees now.
Thompson said the state should have a standardized education program for young people.
"Something fairly standardized that sends the same message to youth is a good idea," she said.
There’s reason to believe 2008 could be worse for STDs in Iowa as
people in the wake of the flooding may be more inclined to make the
sorts of poor decisions that lead to STDs, Thompson said.
"We saw a spike with Katrina," she said of the Gulf Coast hurricane.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate up to half of
STDs go undiagnosed. This is common because people may be unaware they
have an STD. The initial signs and symptoms are often invisible, but
the infection is still doing damage internally. Untreated STDs can
cause rashes, sores, abdominal pain, surgery, infertility and even
death. While many STDs are curable, any damage done to the body cannot
be undone. The American Social Health Association estimates that every
dollar spent on STD prevention saves $43 in the costs of STD-related