By JEFF MEYERS
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Education is a key in reducing the spread of sexually transmitted infections throughout the community.
Awareness of infections through testing is also paramount in the region’s fight against HIV, chlamydia, syphilis and others.
Representatives from several local agencies have combined their efforts to increase awareness of the infections to battle increased numbers of cases in Clinton County.
Those agencies include the Clinton County Health Department; the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York; Planned Parenthood of the North Country New York; CVPH Medical Center; and the two local colleges, Plattsburgh State and Clinton Community College.
“We decided to work as a group four or five years ago to make sure we are offering services (for testing and treating sexually transmitted infections) throughout the week,” said Darwyna Facteau, supervising public-health nurse for the Clinton County Health Department.
“As a group, we meet quarterly to discuss what is going on in the community,” she added. “As a Health Department, we see all of the stats (of infections reported by health-care providers), and we can talk (as a group) about what strategies are best (for attacking outbreaks).”
Most sexually transmitted infections — often identified as sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs — have been increasing locally, statewide and across the nation.
In Clinton County, there were 183 cases of chlamydia in 2010, and that number jumped to 282 cases in 2012.
Chlamydia is a bacterium that can infect the penis, vagina, cervix, anus, urethra, eyes or throat. It can cause bladder infections and serious pelvic inflammatory disease. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in America.
Only one case of syphilis was recorded in 2010, but 12 cased were identified in 2011, though that number dropped to seven in 2012. Cases of gonorrhea more than doubled from 13 cases in 2010 to 28 cases in 2012.
According to the New York State HIV/AIDS Surveillance Annual Report, 63 people in Clinton County were being treated for HIV/AIDs in 2007. By 2010, that number had increased to 69 patients, with one new HIV diagnosis recorded that year.
“We’re using some new testing tools that helps make the process simpler and helps patients have a sense of closure,” said Betsy Brown, president and chief executive officer for Planned Parenthood of the North Country New York.
“We can have initial results in 15 minutes,” added Diana Aguglia, regional director for the AIDS Council of Northeastern New York.
If those initial results prove positive, the patient goes through another test that takes about 20 minutes to verify, and samples are then sent to the state lab for confirmation, she added.
Confidential testing is also available at Planned Parenthood and the Clinton County Health Department, which is the only service locally that also provides anonymous testing for people who would like to know their status but without releasing their name.
The improved testing and expanded educational services have played some role in finding increased numbers across the county, but providers are still concerned that many people may not know they have an infection such as chlamydia, which often has no clear symptoms.
“The available stats show that young adults up to age 29 have the highest incident of STIs, but there is no age limit to who can become infected,” Facteau said.
“Anybody who is sexually active is at risk,” Brown added.
Plattsburgh State and Clinton Community College offer free and confidential testing for their students to address that most-prevalent age-group.
“We’ve had a lot of success (in reaching out to college students),” said Nicole Powers, college nurse at Clinton Community College. “Students have been responsive (to accessing available testing).”
Plattsburgh State has been actively involved in promoting infection education, said Susan Sand, assistant director of Medical Services for the university.
“Getting groups together to help co-sponsor events has been key (to educational awareness on campus),” she said. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in participation (from students).”
Other common sexually transmitted infections in the community include genital warts, HPV, Hepatitis A and B, and herpes.
Early diagnosis of a sexually transmitted infection leads to prompt treatment and a decreased chance that it will spread. Increased education will reduce the potential for spreading an unknown infection.
Health-care providers have switched to “sexually transmitted infections” as the preferred phrase for these conditions to emphasize the impact of an infection on the community. Not all infections develop into disease, but all sexually transmitted diseases are initiated by infections, providers stress.
Email Jeff Meyers:firstname.lastname@example.orgTO LEARN MORE For information on confidential testing for sexually transmitted infections, call Planned Parenthood of the North Country New York at 561-4430, the AIDS Council at 563-2437 or the Clinton County Health Department at 565-4848. Read about infection awareness by visiting www.cdcnpin.org/stdawareness/GYT.aspx.