“Trying To Pick My Favorite Republican Candidate Is Exactly LikeDeciding Which STD Would Be Just Right For Me.”
– Unknown Source
Special to GoGuide Magazine
By Iowa Department of Public Health
Des Moines, IA-The Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) Program is a part of the Bureau of HIV, STD, and Hepatitis at the Iowa Department of Public Health. The STD Program works to improve the sexual and reproductive health of Iowans by mitigating the effects of STDs and reducing their spread in our communities.
There are a number of strategies the program employs to strive toward these goals. The STD Program gathers data on the incidence of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia throughout the state. Data are examined and made available in aggregate form to healthcare and public health professionals, as well as the general public, so that they are made aware of the impact of STDs in our communities.
Secondly, the STD Program maintains a safety net network of clinics throughout the state where individuals who are uninsured, underinsured, or seeking confidential services may be tested for certain STDs. This is done in partnership with the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa and the Family Planning Council of Iowa.
Additionally, the STD Program ensures that treatment medications are made available to these clinics so that individuals who are diagnosed with or exposed to certain STDs have the opportunity to receive recommended medications.
Finally, the STD Program maintains a partner notification program. The program is vital in reducing the spread of HIV and other STDs. A team of highly trained staff known as Disease Intervention Specialists (DIS) work with individuals who have been diagnosed with HIV or syphilis (and sometimes other STDs) so that their sex or needle-sharing partners may be confidentialy notified of their exposure and connected with recommended testing and treatment. In addition to the STD Program, the DIS are also supported by the HIV Prevention and Ryan White programs in the bureau. IDPH works closely with Polk, Linn, Scott, and Black Hawk counties who also maintain DIS staff.
The ultimate goal of the STD Program is to end transmission of STDs in our communities so that no one has to endure the deleterious health consequences of untreated STDs. The program is primarily supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state of Iowa also provides support that is utilized for testing and treatment.
What are sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? Is that different than STIs?
STDs are infections that are transmitted from person to person by sexual intercourse. Many can be transmitted by any kind of sex, including anal, oral, and vaginal. One of the few STIs where transmission by oral sex is nearly impossible is HIV.
An STI is a sexually transmitted infection. There is debate about which term is best and they are often used interchangeably. Many argue that STI is a more appropriate term because there is more stigma with the word “disease” and most people associate the word with someone who has symptoms, which may not be the case for many of these infections.
Who gets STIs?
Anyone who has sex can get an STI! No one is immune. Depending on the particular STI, some populations are more affected than others. For example, adolescents and young adults (e.g., people younger than 30) tend to be more affected by chlamydia and gonorrhea. Gay men and other men who have sex with men tend to be more affected by syphilis. There are also disparities among racial and ethnic minorities, such as Black, Latinx, and American Indian populations.
Why are some populations more affected than others?
There is no single reason. Reduced access to services and decreased condom use are contributors. Inadequate support of public health programs, sexual health education, and research focused on STIs have made the situation more challenging over the past few decades.
Societal and systemic factors have a major impact as well, such as stigma and systemic racism. Historically, systems and infrastructures have been built around white, heterosexual, and cisgender populations. This leads to poorer outcomes for vulnerable and marginalized populations in our communities whose needs and opportunities often differ from more privileged populations.
Do I really need to worry about STIs? Even if I get one, can’t I just get a shot and it’s taken care of?
It’s true that STIs are treatable. Some of the most common ones are even curable. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis can all be cured with a course of antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. It’s important to remember, though, that untreated even these curable infections can cause serious long-term health consequences. That’s why getting diagnosed and treated early is so important so that you can prevent serious harm to your body. Not to mention reduce the risk of transmission to others. Some STIs cannot be cured (mostly ones caused by viruses) but there are excellent medications that can reduce and even sometimes eliminate symptoms.
I would know if I had an STI and needed to get tested, right?
Not necessarily. Not everyone who has an STI gets symptoms. And even when symptoms appear, they may be confused with other conditions. Although painful urination is a well-known symptom of chlamydia and gonorrhea, many may have no noticeable symptoms at all!
When should I get tested?
How often you should get tested depends on which STI we’re talking about, the populations of which you’re apart, and your individual risk. Generally it’s a good idea to get tested for infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV if you have new or multiple sex partners or you and your partner are not practicing mutual monogamy.
Sexually active adolescents and young adults should be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia at least once a year, regardless of symptoms. Individuals who regularly have new sex partners may want to get tested as often as four times a year so that if they do acquire an asymptomatic infection, it can be diagnosed and treated early.
What is the test like? How do they do it?
Again, that depends on which STI we’re talking about. Tests for syphilis and HIV, for example, are blood tests. Chlamydia and gonorrhea on the other hand is done with a urine sample or swab. It’s important to remember that with chlamydia and gonorrhea you should asked to be tested at every body site you use for sex. For example, if you have receptive anal intercourse, you should ask for a rectal swab. A urine test would not be enough. You can have chlamydia or gonorrhea in one body part but not another, which is why it’s important to get a specimen from every part of your body that you use for sex (i.e. urine specimen for inservtive intercourse and vaginal, throat, or rectal swabs for receptive intercourse).
Where can I go to get tested?
There are several options for testing. For some, clinic hours may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic so it’s best to call ahead. If you have a regular clinic you go to for other health and wellness checks, they should be able to test you. If you’d prefer a different option, you can look for testing locations at myiacondoms.org or gettested.cdc.gov. Some larger county health departments offer testing. In the Iowa City area, the Free Medical Clinic is an option and for University of Iowa students, Student Health is also available. Johnson County Public Health will expand their testing capacity within the next few months.
Editors note: The preceding information was provided by the STD Program Manager | Bureau of HIV, STD, and Hepatitis | Division of Behavioral Health | Iowa Department of Public Health.
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