Connecticut’s governor has one of the lowest approval ratings in the nation. The state’s budget situation is a mess. And in recent years, businesses have left Connecticut en masse.
But in one respect, the state has made strides: The number of people in the state diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases grew at a lower rate between 2015 and 2016 than it did in the rest of the country.
For the third year in a row, the United States experienced an overall increase in rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report. Compared to the data compiled in 2015, there was a 4.7 percent increase in cases of chlamydia, an 18.5 percent increase in cases of gonorrhea and a 17.6 percent increase in cases of syphilis. Connecticut also saw an increase in STDs, but it was modest compared to other states in the country.
Epidemiologists say that the increase in STD cases can be attributed partly to easier testing practices and the increased availability of those tests. Brian Weeks, an epidemiologist who works for City Hall, added that the rise in hookup app-induced casual sex and the perceived safety of certain sex acts such as oral sex have also contributed to the rise in STDs.
Still, Connecticut ranks 42nd out of 50 states in rates of chlamydia, and 41st in rates of gonorrhea, as well as primary and secondary syphilis, according to the CDC report. These infections sometimes remain dormant in their occupants, which may lead to disease transmissions that sexual partners are not aware of, Weeks said.
“It’s important to understand that chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis can have asymptomatic or latent cases, which can potentially allow the individual to continue to transmit infection, since treatment is likely not pursued,” he said.
These asymptomatic or latent infections can potentially increase one’s risk of contracting other infections such as human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, he added.
According to Weeks and the CDC report, young people aged 15 to 24, gay and bisexual men, and pregnant women are most prone to contracting STDs.
Weeks stressed the importance of helping those vulnerable groups and crafting novel models of reaching out to the public. By doing so, health professionals can keep communities aware of transmission risk, arming them with methods to protect themselves from STDs, he said.
Health officials also should focus on educating college students about STD protection and prevention, Weeks said.
“College students do fall within the higher risk groups indicated in the CDC STD Surveillance Report,” Weeks said. “So educating and advising them on safe sex is pivotal to reducing the risk of infection in individuals and to combat the propagation of Sexually Transmitted Infections in the population.”
Cynthia Goldman ’20 — a leader of the Community Health Educators’ STI prevention and contraception group, a Yale student organization — said education is the most important action to take in order to prevent the increase of STD cases.
“Students at the high school level, or even middle school level, need to understand the risks,” Goldman said. “Abstinence-only programs or curricula only focus on detailing the causes or symptoms of the disease rather than the treatment necessary for STIs.”
According to the CDC’s website, promoting education on sexually transmitted infections and sexual health is an effective way to prevent the rise of STDs across the country. Opening discussions about sexual health with partners and health care providers is also cited by the website as an effective mitigation strategy. Connecticut, a state that supports sexual health education on the website of its department of education, is in the lowest quintile of states in rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.
Goldman expressed the belief that efforts to prevent the spread of STDs both on campus and in New Haven have been sufficient.
“Yale is doing a great job,” Goldman said. “There are plenty of resources on campus and an emphasis on getting tested — testing parties on Cross Campus, for example. Plus, New Haven is home to plenty of clinics.”
The New Haven Health Department operates an STD Clinic Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. The clinic’s testing includes chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, as well as herpes simplex, HIV, hepatitis B and C and other diseases that can be transmitted through sexual activity.
Rianna Turner | firstname.lastname@example.org