April is STD Awareness Month, an opportunity to highlight the importance of STD prevention, testing, and treatment. The theme for 2016 is Talk. Test. Treat. For health departments, healthcare providers, and community-based organizations, this means talking openly to clients and patients about sexual health and STDs, ensuring that everyone who should be tested is, and making sure STDs are treated correctly.
The CDC estimates that there are nearly 20 million new STD diagnoses each year, with young people ages 15–24 and gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men continuing to be at greatest risk for infection. For the first time since 2006, reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis–the three nationally reported STDs–have increased. It is very concerning that we have also seen a sharp increase in the incidence of congenital syphilis from 2012 to 2014. These trends are disturbing; however we have the tools needed to reverse them. It is critical that the resources, infrastructure, and assistance to appropriately and effectively implement them are also available.
Local health departments (LHDs) are on the frontlines of STD prevention, testing, and treatment. LHDs offer a multitude of services, including free or low cost STD/HIV testing and treatment, partner services, access to condoms, and expedited partner therapy (EPT) in some jurisdictions. Additionally, sexual health education, community outreach, health fairs, and STD/HIV screening events are often organized through LHDs. Health departments also serve as an important resource for healthcare providers by providing education and technical assistance on testing and treatment recommendations. Working with healthcare providers is critically important, given that the majority of STDs are diagnosed and treated outside of the public health setting.
Throughout STD Awareness Month, NACCHO will share stories from LHDs on this blog. The stories will highlight the important work LHDs across the country are doing to prevent and control STDs in their communities. If you are also interested in sharing your story, please e-mail me at [email protected], and stay tuned to learn more throughout the month.
Here’s my story. In January of this year, I joined the HIV, STI, and Viral Hepatitis team at NACCHO. Before joining NACCHO, I spent over a decade working for local and state health department STD programs. My time spent working with the dedicated staff in these STD programs has provided me with an array of experiences, from working as a Disease Intervention Specialist (DIS) to supervising DIS, and from program implementation to strategizing the most effective ways of reaching people in the community to disseminate prevention messages and provide testing services. I will apply these experiences and the skills I developed through my health department work to projects at NACCHO, such as supporting the development of a national certification program for DIS, assessing STD program infrastructure, and providing technical and capacity building assistance on key issues, such as EPT, rapid syphilis testing, PrEP implementation, and the role of DIS in linkage to HIV care.
Be sure to visit CDC’s STD Awareness Page for fact sheets, brochures, online banners, and STD testing locators. New this year, you will also find the Lowdown infographic, sample social media posts, and redesigned plain language brochures in easy-to-print formats. CDC will also be hosting its first STD Thunderclap, which NACCHO is participating in. This social media platform allows a single message to be shared from multiple social media channels at the same time, helping this message rise above the noise of your social networks. All you have to do is sign up to participate, and together, we can help further the important prevention messages of this year’s STD Awareness Month.
If your health department is planning activities to raise awareness about STD prevention, testing, and treatment in April, use the hashtag #STDMonth16 and tweet @NACCHOalerts to let us know!