Myth: "I'm protected from sexually transmitted diseases because I take the Pill."
You wouldn't think you'd need a local website, STDomaha.com, to tell you that, but that's the sort of thinking that is floating around Omaha.
Is it any wonder that Douglas County continues to battle high chlamydia and gonorrhea rates?
"There are always misconceptions about health and health status," said Valda Ford, a nurse who works with the county's Sexually Transmitted Disease initiative.
"'If you're a diabetic, just don't eat sugar.' That is so far off the mark it kills people. Why should that be different for STDs?"
In 2010, Douglas County had more than 2,800 confirmed cases of chlamydia and 815 confirmed cases of gonorrhea. A third of the chlamydia cases and nearly a quarter of the gonorrhea cases were among youths ages 15 to 19.
Through July of this year, Douglas County has had more than 1,700 chlamydia cases and almost 470 gonorrhea cases.
The actual number of cases likely is triple the confirmed numbers, Ford said, when you take into account cases involving people who don't know they are infected and others involving those who are treated at doctors' offices for "nonspecific vaginitis" or "nonspecific urethritis."
"I could have an STD every day and go in and be treated every day, but until the doctor runs a lab test to confirm it, it does not exist" in the statistics, Ford said.
At least those people are getting treated. People with chlamydia and gonorrhea often don't have any symptoms, local experts say, and they therefore don't go in for testing and, if necessary, treatment.
And the treatment itself is so simple, said Christopher Fisher, the director of the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative. "It's a couple pills," he said. "It takes care of it and it's gone."
That's not the case with HIV, which also is spread through sexual contact. (Douglas County had 75 such cases last year.)
"We do not have a cure for HIV," said Dr. Archana Chatterjee, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the Creighton University School of Medicine. "We can manage it like we can manage other diseases. Ultimately, it poses a significant risk to a large percentage of the population."
The underlying problem is so many people are having unprotected sex, potentially exposing themselves to STDs and HIV.
In the YouTube video — "STD! Not Me!" — produced by the Douglas County Health Department and Valda Ford's Center for Human Diversity, Omahan Devonta Harris, 18, now a freshman at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, talks about STDs to a group of teens.
Harris asks them, "How many sexual partners have you had? How many sexual partners has the person you've been having sex with had? . This is a small city. You see the same people almost every day. And if STDs are spreading around like that, it's like a text message, a 'forward' that everybody got. 'Cause one person had it — one person sent that out."
Adi Pour, the county's health director, said: "It's not only that we want to change the STD rates. What we want to do is decrease the adverse health outcomes that come from STDs. Sometimes we forget to go the next step."
Pour said STDs, if left untreated, can lead to infertility, and infertility treatment costs billions of dollars a year in the United States.
Ford said the best way for teens to avoid STDs is for them to refrain from having sex — condoms don't always work and can be tampered with. But some teens either don't realize the risks or get pressured into it, she said.
"The main thing that hurts me so much, I guess, is when I hear young people express their difficulties with negotiating the refusal of an act that they are pretty sure they don't want to be involved in," Ford said.
Ford said parents should talk to their children about STD risks before the kids enter their teens.
"People think talking about sex is nasty," she said. When the topic is sex among teens, she said, some parents think, "If we don't talk about it, it doesn't exist, and it doesn't happen."
The STD numbers — and HIV and teen-pregnancy numbers — show that's not the case.
"Talk to your children," Pour said. "Know where they are, know their friends, know their behavior."
People who are sexually active can get free tests for STDs at Douglas County Health Department test sites at Omaha libraries. Free or low-cost tests at other locations are listed at www.stdomaha.com. The site also includes links to health websites.
Parental consent is not required for teens to be tested for STDs.
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