Chlamydia on the Rise, Particularly for People of Color
Blacks were disproportionately affected by sexually transmitted infection rates in 2007, including chlamydia rates that reached a record high and syphilis rates that increased for the seventh consecutive year, according to a CDC report released on Tuesday, Reuters Health reports (Dunham, Reuters Health, 1/13).
The report found 1.1 million chlamydia diagnoses were reported in 2007. The chlamydia rate was 370 reported cases per 100,000 people in 2007 -- a 7.5% increase since 2006.
Reported gonorrhea diagnoses -- which peaked in the 1970s at one million and then declined until a few years ago -- totaled 355,991, or 119 reported cases per 100,000 people in 2007. The rate was similar to that reported in 2006.
The syphilis rate continued to rise in 2007, as it has since 2000, with 11,466 diagnoses reported, or 3.8 cases per 100,000 people. This marks a 15% increase from 2006 (Engel, Los Angeles Times, 1/14).
Black women ages 15 to 19 have the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea. Gonorrhea rates for blacks overall were 19 times higher than for whites, according to the report. Blacks make up 12% of the U.S. population, but account for about 70% of gonorrhea cases and nearly 50% of chlamydia and syphilis cases, the report said (Reuters Health, 1/13). Minorities have been disproportionately affected by STIs in previous year reports, with American Indians Alaska Natives and Hispanics at a lesser extent, according to the Times.
Public health officials said the disparities can be attributed to several factors, including socioeconomic and cultural issues, lack of access to health care and distrust of the health care system.
John Douglas, director of CDC's Division of STI Prevention, said that the increase in reported chlamydia cases could be attributed to better detection and an increase in testing, especially among women. In addition, providers are now using a more sensitive test to screen for the infection. However, health officials believe that the reported number of chlamydia diagnoses might not be the true number of infections -- which they predict could be closer to three million -- because so many infections go unidentified (Los Angeles Times, 1/14).
While this is by no means only an issue for people of color, we have long known that people of color in the United States are disproportionately infected with sexually transmitted infections. We have also long known that the reasons for that are not particularly elusive: most experts agree that this is due to a couple basic issues, namely, lack of cooperation or support from male partners for condom use and less access for all people of color to quality healthcare services.
It's equally unmysterious when it comes to how to address this rise of these rates: by practicing safer sex, consistently and correctly.
Ideally, that means that with any new partner, you use latex barriers (condoms for vaginal or anal intercourse or male-receptive oral sex, dental dams for female-receptive oral sex or analingus) for EVERY incidence of sex for at least six months, six months of sexual exclusivity, and that before ditching them for those activities, you and your partner both have at least one full round of STI tests each with negative results. If either of you doesn't choose to be monogamous during that time or afterwards, or either doesn't get those tests, you stick with condoms. If you do get the tests and ditch condoms, you both still -- even if you both stay monogamous -- get your STI tests done once every year.
The racism and classism that created and sustains the disparity with health care services is, alas, something largely outside your power to fix, especially in the period of time you need those services. Choosing who you have sex with, on the other hand, is something mostly within your control. You have the choice and the power to show male partners who refuse to take care of their health and yours by using condoms and getting tested the door and hold out only for partners who treat you and your body with that kind of respect and care.
Chlamydia is unlikely to kill anyone, and it's very easily treated. However, to be treated, you have to be diagnosed, and to get diagnosed, you have to be tested. Often, Chlamydia, like many sexually transmitted infections, doesn't present any noticeable symptoms, so if you're waiting around for symptoms to get tested, you may wind up walking around with it for a long time without knowing. That can be dangerous, particularly for women because it can cause secondary infections which are more serious, like pelvic inflammatory disease.
Not sure where to get tested? You can usually get STI tests done at your general doctor's office, a gynecologist or urologists office, general public health clinics or sexual health clinics, such as Planned Parenthood clinics, or, if you're in college, through school health services. If you're still lost, you can always ask your school nurse or just pick up the phone book and look for women's health or sexual health services.