STDs Remain High In Washoe; Here Are Some Reasons Why

Oct 16, 2019

The common use of dating apps has been attributed to more casual sexual encounters. Health officials say this type of hook-up culture is one factor in the spike of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Right now, the combined number of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are at an all-time high nationally. KUNR’s Anh Gray talks with Jennifer Howell, who’s with the sexual health program at the Washoe County Health District, to learn more.

A new surveillance report from the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, finds that Nevada continues to top the nation for the highest rate of primary and secondary syphilis. A syphilis infection has four stages—primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary—and each is marked by different symptoms.

The first stage is the most infectious. In Washoe County, health officials are seeing the majority of syphilis cases among the group of men who have sex with men and may not identify as being gay or bisexual.

“They may identify as heterosexual, and they may have female partners and also male partners. That is the group that we’re seeing impacted the most,” Howell explained. “And then we’re seeing an increase among females. We know that there is a number of people, men who are having sex with male and female partners, who may not be disclosing that.”

Pregnant women can pass along the infection to their unborn child. Nevada ranked second in the nation for congenital syphilis. “So, that’s babies that are born with syphilis from an infected mother with a disease that can be fatal,” Howell said. “There’s a lot of very negative health outcomes that are likely to occur, especially with those babies. There are a variety of factors that are contributing to the rise of STDs.

Howell says the use of dating apps may lead to unprotected casual sexual encounters. “That’s definitely had an impact. It takes people out of their social circle and exposes them to a new group or that has more influence on them. The drug epidemic surging across the nation has also had an influence to rising STDs."

“Methamphetamine use has always had an impact on STDs, in people’s behavior, and then put them at risk for acquiring an STD,” Howell explained. “Opioid use, that brings in another component, of people injecting drugs or putting themselves in situations to have sex, to support their drug habit—survival sex, which is exchanging sex for something that they need. And that puts people at a higher risk.”

STDs nationwide broke a new record for the fifth consecutive year.