EVANSVILLE, Ind. — This year, more people in Vanderburgh County and surrounding counties have been exposed to sexually transmitted infections than in recent years, officials say.
Gonorrhea and syphilis are prominent STIs plaguing Vanderburgh and surrounding counties, according to the Vanderburgh County Health Department. Zip codes, 47714 and 47713, have a large number of gonorrhea cases, health officials said.
The STI increase is across all sexual orientations.
Between January and June, there have been 409 gonorrhea cases reported — a dramatic increase from the 252 cases reported for all of 2017.
Vanderburgh County had the greatest increase in gonorrhea cases in the 11-county area including Vanderburgh, said Wallace Corbitt, supervisor for STD Programs for Vanderburgh County Health Department.
Corbitt said chlamydia cases are the most commonly reported STI. Chlamydia rates are high in the region but have remained stagnant between 2017 and 2018. In 2017, approximately 1,032 cases were reported. As of July 2018, the number of cases reported is 949.
The Courier and Press reported the Vanderburgh County Health Department said 27 cases of syphilis had been reported as of July. For that same period the year before, only five cases were reported.
This increase is being seen nationwide.
About 2.3 million cases of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia were diagnosed in the United States in 2017, according to preliminary data released Aug. 28 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the National STD Prevention Conference in Washington, D.C.
This new-found statistic exceeds the 2016 record by more than 200,000 cases.
This is the fourth consecutive year of "sharp increases in these sexually transmitted diseases," the preliminary release stated.
According to CDC, gonorrhea diagnoses increased by 67 percent from 2013 to preliminary data for 2017 and doubled among men. The number of women being diagnosed is also increasing.
Chlamydia remained the most common STD reported in 2017, according to the release. In 2017 alone, more than 1.7 million cases were reported. About 45 percent of those cases were reported among young women, 15 to 24.
CDC officials state primary and secondary syphilis diagnoses increased from 17,375 in 2013 to 30,644 cases in 2017. Nearly 70 percent of the cases reported were from the gay, bisexual or other men who sleep with men.
“We are sliding backward,” said Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention. “It is evident the systems that identify, treat and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point.”
Prevention dollars are nowhere to be found, Corbitt emphasized.
"We don't have dollars for prevention," he said. "There's treatment and some dollars for testing, but for the most part - anyone that has insurance is recommended (to) go to their medical home. Some doctors may treat their patient based on a clinical sign, but we can't diagnose anyone on a clinical sign. We have to have laboratory confirmation."
Doctors have the ability to cure many STIs with antibiotics. However, CDC reports that many cases of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia go untreated and undiagnosed over time.
CDC officials emphasized there is a looming threat among antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea.
"The threat of untreatable gonorrhea persists in the United States, and reports of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea abroad have only reinforced those concerns," the release stated. "Over the years, gonorrhea has become resistant to nearly every class of antibiotics used to treat it, except to ceftriaxone, the only remaining highly effective antibiotic to treat gonorrhea in the United States."
But things could change over time.
“We expect gonorrhea will eventually wear down our last highly effective antibiotic, and additional treatment options are urgently needed,” said Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention. “We can’t let our defenses down — we must continue reinforcing efforts to rapidly detect and prevent resistance as long as possible.”
Lynn Herr, Vanderburgh County Director of Clinical and Outreach Divisions, said some individuals are focused on preventing HIV and aren't as concerned with preventing other STIs.
Corbitt agreed, saying that with more people taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV they aren't concerned with contracting other STIs.
"So you've taken away the fear of HIV because if they're following the guidelines for PrEP, they get checked for an STD every three months," Corbitt said. "It's more of, 'I've taken away the big one. All the others are curable.'"
Herr said social dating phone apps such as Grindr, Tinder, Plenty of Fish and regular social media accounts are potential factors leading to the STI rate increase locally and nationwide.
"They're not dating, they're just meeting up," Herr emphasized. "There's a username, you can make up your name, add a profile picture and no nothing about this person."
Rural counties have also been drastically affected by STIs since the former Governor Mike Pence took "away money from Planned Parenthoods' in a lot of these rural counties, who were doing the testing. They can't give state money to Planned Parenthood, and they were the only one providing service," Corbitt said.
The lack of sexual health education is also problematic, he said. Indiana teaches abstinence-only based sexual education unless a principal declares otherwise.
Lack of funding for public health has also taken a toll.
"We've taken away prevention dollars," he said. "It's a federal issue. Indiana is on the low end of using state funds for public health."