JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sexually transmitted diseases continue to rise in the U.S. with approximately 2.3 million new cases diagnosed in the last year. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis appear to all be making big gains.
News4Jax broke down the numbers and found increases in both Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia.
Duval and Alachua counties had the highest STD rates in Northeast Florida. For every 100,000 people, Duval had 1,138 cases of bacterial STDs in 2017. Alachua had 1,131 in 2017. St. Johns County was the lowest in the region with 379 cases in 2017.
Baker, Union and Columbia counties were also slightly higher. Baker at 676, Columbia at 755 and Union at 937.
Breaking down the numbers by disease, chlamydia had the most cases among the three primary diseases. Duval’s numbers were a little lower relative to the whole state at 734 cases. Alachua remained high.
But Duval was very high in the number of gonorrhea cases statewide with 343 new cases per 100,000 people.
In Southeast Georgia, News4Jax found the numbers were compiled a little differently but did show an upward trend.
For combined cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in Camden County from 2014-2016, the numbers went up from 56 in 2014 to 68 in 2016. In Glynn County, they went from 138 in 2014 to 206 in 2016.
Dr. Marsha Lachaud, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, said doctors have noticed the trend.
“Definitely seen it in practice. I think the CDC has said the numbers of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis are about 2.3 million, which is the highest that they have ever been. We do see higher rates here in the office of STDs, and we actually see a lot of pregnant patients come in who have problems with their babies,” Lachaud said.
How to talk to teens
With a large increase in STD numbers in younger populations, family counselor Lori Osachy, with the Body Imaging Counseling Center, offered some suggestions for how parents should talk to their teens.
“Parents are oftentimes afraid to talk about sex in general with their kids, and then talking to their kids about STDs gives parents a panic attack,” Osachy said.
Osachy said social media dating apps have helped promote a “hook-up” culture where young people meet for sex and make bad decisions, and many teens she counsels are terrified to talk to their parents when they start a relationship.
She said parents should open a dialogue with children and teens as they grow up and not leave discussions to just one “birds and the bees” conversation.
“Young people are sexual beings and they fall in love, and it doesn’t mean they should go around having sex with each other, but if you deny that they have these very real feelings and minimize it, they’re not going to come to you when they’re in trouble and need advice,” Osachy said.
Osachy said parents don't have to compromise their principles if they have serious moral issues with their teens having sex, but extreme punishment might cause teens to close their parents off and could lead to uninformed choices.
She said she sees a lot of people coming into her counseling practice concerned that they contracted an STD.
Testing, treatment options
Lachaud said her OB-GYN patients sometimes have unrealistic ideas about STDs.
“I think that patients tend to be in a little bubble when it comes to STDs,” she said. “They think that they’re immune to getting STDs. (They think,) 'Oh well, we have all these treatment options, (or) no one really gets STDs.'”
Most STDs can be treated, but Lachaud warned of national trends of super-resistant gonorrhea that is harder to treat. The more information people have to prevent STDs the better, she said.
Lachaud said most STDs will go away within a matter of weeks or months once treated.
“We do like to talk to patients about it, because we want to improve their awareness on it,” Lachaud said. “We want to make sure they know what their options are in terms of being tested in terms of treatment options.”
For those concerned they have contracted an STD, there are options around town for discreet and affordable testing. Some options are even free.
One of those free options is the clinic at JASMYN in Riverside, which is run by assistant director Sabrina Cluesman. The Jacksonville organization works primarily with LGBTQ young people, but Cluesman said roughly half the people tested for STDs at the Peninsular Place clinic are straight.
The clinic, which receives some funding from the Florida Health Department in Duval County, offers free testing for anyone ages 13 to 29.
Cluesman said a quick online search for free STD testing in Jacksonville will provide a lot of results all over the city.
The Health Department also offers STD testing on what it calls a sliding scale based on the patient's income and some spots can be free. Other options for testing include:
- Planned Parenthood
- Agape Community Health Clinics
- Doctor’s offices
Cluesman said with more options than ever, especially for young people, the goal is to make patients aware when they have an STD and to treat them as quickly as possible to reduce the spiking rate of STDs.