Topic: STD Rates in Austin On the Rise
As many Austinites spent endless dreary months disconnected and lusting for life as we knew it, a number of illnesses also took a brief hiatus in the first year of the pandemic. The flu, for instance, pretty much disappeared. But not sexually transmitted diseases, which built upon a solid foothold that’s only been getting bigger every year. “COVID didn’t slow people down from having sex,” says Steven Tamayo, outreach and testing manager at Kind Clinic, a local sexual health and wellness clinic. “It just changed how they had sex.”
In case you weren’t sure, wearing face masks and getting it on outdoors doesn’t stop STDs. Last year, Tamayo reports, Kind Clinic screened over 2,300 people. More than 200 tests came back positive for chlamydia, nearly 200 were positive for gonorrhea, and over 60 tested positive for syphilis. “And that was in the middle of a pandemic,” he says.
Not surprisingly, demand for STD testing at the clinic’s North Austin walk-in site, which offers the service for free, ticked up as vaccines rolled out. By June of this year, the clinic had screened more than 3,000 people, diagnosing and treating hundreds of positive cases.
Austin is hardly alone in facing a nonstop current of STDs. In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that U.S. STD cases reached an all-time high in 2019 for the sixth year in a row. Using that CDC data, California research company Innerbody Research ranked the top 100 U.S. cities by STD rates. Austin came in at 62.
The most commonly reported diseases, at 2.5 million cases, were chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, the latter of which the U.S. had actually been on the verge of eliminating just 20 years ago. All three STDs have been on the rise in Texas for years, according to the latest data from state health officials. The diseases can have serious consequences, including infertility or severe pregnancy complications, if left untreated. Letting them circulate without stronger intervention may also mean fewer treatment options in the future as diseases like gonorrhea develop resistance to the medicines that treat it.
“Knock on wood, we haven’t seen it in Texas yet,” says Elizabeth Cardwell, lead clinician at Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which has seen rising STD cases in all the communities its clinics serve, “but it’s a smart bug and keeps mutating.”
Many of the factors driving up these record rates are the same that have always dogged STD prevention, namely stigma and access to care, says Paige Padgett Wermuth, assistant professor at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston.
Topic Discussed: STD Rates in Austin On the Rise