STD Awareness Month 2019: The State of STDs & the Importance of LHDs

Observed each April, STD Awareness Month serves to raise awareness about what sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STDs/STIs) are, how they impact our lives, and why it’s important to prevent, test for, and treat them. As such, NACCHO leverages this observance annually to bring attention to STDs/STIs and mobilize health departments to strengthen their prevention, testing, and treatment services.

The State of STDs in America 

As the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) STD Surveillance Report shows, STD rates increased for the fourth consecutive year in 2017 and the data shows steep, sustained increases in all three reportable STDs:

  • Gonorrhea diagnoses increased by almost 70% percent overall and nearly doubled among men. Increases in diagnoses among women — and the speed with which they are increasing — are also concerning, with cases going up for the third year in a row.
  • Primary and secondary syphilis diagnoses increased 76%. Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) made up almost 70% of cases where the gender of the sex partner is known in 2017. Congenital syphilis cases rose sharply with 918 cases in 2017, a number that has more than doubled since 2013. This included 64 reported stillbirths as a result of congenital syphilis (up from 41 in 2016).
  • Chlamydia remained the most common condition reported to CDC. More than 1.7 million cases were diagnosed in 2017, with 45% of cases among 15- to 24-year-old females.

As Dr. Gail Bolan, Director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, notes in her Dear Colleague Letter, “These data mean our work is more important than ever – and we can all get involved. CDC and other federal organizations, community leaders, health departments, community-based organizations, healthcare providers, and individuals can all take action at work, in our schools and communities, and at home to make a difference.”

Taking Action to Address STDs at the Local Level

LHDs work every day to reduce STD rates and improve health outcomes in their communities by testing for, treating, and ultimately preventing STDs. But as STD rates continue to climb, federal, state and local resources have stayed the same or decreased, leaving public health systems — including local health departments (LHDs) — without sufficient funding and capacity to respond to rising STD rates. As Dr. Jonathan Mermin, Director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, noted, “It is evident that the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point.” Resources that remain the same or have decreased are not enough; LHDs and their partners need more. To learn more about how declining or stagnant budgets have impacted LHDs’ STD activities, check out this fact sheet.

Be sure to also keep an eye out for customizable materials that will be released soon, such as resources for developing your own local data fact sheet or writing an op-ed, to help you highlight your local STD data and your LHD’s response. NACCHO is producing these materials to support and encourage LHDs to tell the story of your STD program, its successes and challenges, and the resources needed to address rising rates of STDs in your community. On the federal level, NACCHO is working in coalition to promote the passage and implementation of evidence-based policies to address the spread of STDs, as well as to bring additional funding to local public health to support STD prevention and treatment.

Looking Ahead

Throughout STD Awareness Month, NACCHO will publish blog posts highlighting each of CDC’s four most popular campaigns: Syphilis Strikes Back, GYT: Get Yourself Tested, Treat Me Right, and Talk. Test. Treat. New posts will be available every Thursday this month and will feature work that LHDs and NACCHO are doing around the country to address STDs. We encourage you to get involved, as well, using CDC’s digital toolkit for STD Awareness Month and these other resources.

To get things started off, we hope you will also check out this blog post on NACCHO’s work to support disease intervention specialists (DIS). These individuals usually work out of local or state health departments, notifying individuals of potential exposure to STDs and helping them to get tested and, if necessary, treated. Supporting this essential segment of the public health workforce is a key component of NACCHO’s efforts to support LHD STD program, and we are excited to share, in their own words, the contribution of DIS to reducing new STD infections and the value of investing in their professional development.

NACCHO is committed to supporting our members in their efforts to address our national STD crisis. For more information, read about our STD work and check out our STD policy statement. We encourage you to use these materials, and others, in your own STD Awareness Month activities!

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