APACHE COUNTY — Sexually transmitted disease continues to rise across the state – with alarmingly high rates in Apache County, according to the background report attached to the renewal of the county’s contract with the Arizona Department of Health Services focused on stopping the spread of chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis.

The number of cases statewide has risen steadily in recent years. Reports jumped 16 percent in 2017 to a statewide total of 54,000, according to the state department of health services. STD’s have tripled statewide since 2000.

Arizona ranks 5th nationally when it comes to the STD rate.

Apache County last year had 639 reported cases, including 167 reports of gonorrhea and 21 cases of syphilis.

The officially reported number may represent only a fraction of the cases out there, since diseases like syphilis and gonorrhea may cause few noticeable symptoms for years.

So the state contracts with county health departments to not only provide treatment, but screening for people who think they may have been exposed or start to develop symptoms. The use of condoms sharply reduces the spread of most STDs and screening allows prompt treatment. The state in 2017 provided money to screen 18,000 people and treatment for 2,000 of their partners.

Despite those efforts, STD cases in Arizona have tripled since 2000, perhaps reflecting cuts in spending on public health as well as less public concern about AIDS – which remains an ongoing health concern not included in the base STD numbers.

Nationally, the number of STDs has increased every year for the past five years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. In 2018, the CDC reported 2.4 million STD infections. The figures include an alarming increase in syphilis cases during pregnancy. Infections resulted in the death of 61 Arizona infants in 2018. Arizona’s one of just five states that account for 70 percent of the syphilis cases in utero, which have jumped 40 percent in the past year.

Arizona ranks fifth in the nation when it comes to STD rates. Ironically, a decline in the use of condoms due to an increase in other forms of birth control may have contributed to the increase. (www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2019/2018-STD-surveillance-report-press-release.html).

The high rates of STDs in Arizona may also reflect the relative lack of sex education programs in schools. State law requires parental permission for comprehensive sex education classes – and requires a stress on not having sex at all over education about birth control and the benefits of condom use. The state’s law doesn’t even require the few schools that do offer sex education to provide “medically accurate” information. Numerous national studies have suggested so-called abstinence-only program have little impact on pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease rates among teens.

Nationally, half of the local programs to screen and treat STDs have suffered budget cuts in the past several years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

The Apache County Board of Supervisors last week approved the extension of the county’s contract with the state health department to screen and treat STDs here. The contract also calls for public education, outreach, community partnerships and other efforts to track and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

But don’t get too optimistic.

The 22-page contract will provide about $6,000 to help the county prevent the spread of STDs through a population of 70,000.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

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