San Rafael, CA – April is sexually transmitted disease (STD) awareness month. It is essential to know about STDs and how prevention and testing is critical to overall health.
Advertising at bus stations help convey the importance of STD testing.
However, STD Awareness Month is not just about awareness but also about action. Bay Area health officials, including those in Marin County, are urging everyone who is sexually active, especially young people, to take charge of their sexual health. Young people and men who have sex with men are at particular risk and should get tested more often.
STD testing is now more crucial than ever because rates are continuing to rise, increasing steadily in Marin and statewide since 2013. Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis continue to grow, and syphilis has re-emerged as a significant public health concern. In California, 283 infants were born with syphilis in 2017.
Chlamydia, the most common STD in California, is easily preventable and treatable but can cause serious health problems such as infertility if left untreated. In Marin, between 2013 and 2017, chlamydia rates almost doubled, going from 405 cases to 757 annual cases. Most of these cases are in young women. National statistics estimate that one out of every two young people will have an STD before age 25.
“Quite often, someone can have an STD and not show any symptoms. The only way to stop the ongoing spread of STDs is for more people to get checked regularly and encourage their partners to get checked as well," said Dr. Lisa Santora, Marin’s Deputy Public Health Officer. “Young women get tested routinely when they seek reproductive health care and birth control, but not enough young men seek the preventative care that they need.”
In Marin, there are many partners taking action to make sure everyone in the community has access to health care. The Marin Community Clinics (MCC) recently launched a drop-in STD clinic on Mondays and Thursday evenings from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at 3260 Kerner Avenue in San Rafael. Additionally, it partners with local agencies such as Huckleberry Youth Programs, North Bay Community Services in Novato, and the School Wellness Centers in the Tamalpais Union High School District to bring health services to teens.
In an ideal world, everyone who needs STD checks would be routinely engaged in care, have insurance, and be able to approach the subject of sexual health with ease. However, there are many barriers to people obtaining health care and seeking preventative care including racial inequity, poverty, and stigma. In the case of an untreated STD, there can be some severe consequences.
Fortunately, there are many tools besides testing to prevent STDs, including HIV. Young people can get vaccinated for human papillomavirus virus (HPV), which is the most common STD and can cause cervical cancer. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), consisting of taking one pill a day, effectively prevents HIV. Additionally, practicing safe sex, using condoms and talking to partners about sexual health, are tried and accurate methods of STD and HIV prevention.
In Marin County, the Family Pact Program provides STD services free of charge. More information about health care services are at the HHS website.