Sexually transmitted infections on the rise in New Mexico

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September 25 — New Mexico again tops a list that does not reflect the state well.

Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state ranks second in the country for its rate of syphilis. In 2019, it had 511 cases, a rate of 24.4 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

The state also ranks 10th for chlamydia – with more than 14,000 cases in 2019 – and 11th for gonorrhea – with almost 5,000 cases.

These are statistics that Planned Parenthood officials and state lawmakers find alarming.

“All of these rankings are appalling, which we rate so high in gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia,” Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said at a legislative hearing in August when Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains presented the troubling data.

Adrienne Mansanares, head of the experiment for the regional branch of Planned Parenthood, said in an interview that many people view a sexually transmitted infection as shameful and the stigma could prevent them from getting tested.

To make the problem worse, many people with such infections do not have any symptoms.

“Most people don’t know they have an STI,” Mansanares said. “And we have a lot of people who come to the health centers who believe they are in a monogamous relationship who test positive for an STI, and it’s devastating. Not only are you told you have an STI – yes , we can deal with it – but that means their partner hasn’t been in the monogamous relationship they thought they were in. “

Representatives from Planned Parenthood told lawmakers on the Health and Human Services Committee in August that the state could help increase testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases by offsetting health insurance copayments and making them more affordable.

“There are people who don’t want to get tested because it’s another cost adding to their burden,” said Josh Garcia, MPower program director at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain, which provides a HIV prevention and education for LGBTQ youth.

He said the state could also provide money for STI test kits through the mail. Postage costs $ 15 – a hefty weight for low-income residents.

A public awareness campaign could also make a difference, Kayla Herring, public affairs manager for the regional Planned Parenthood, told lawmakers. “We are convinced that a public awareness and prevention campaign would help reduce and prevent STIs,” she said.

Ortiz y Pinto said it made sense. “Let’s spend some money on a public education campaign using all social media and television that we can,” he said at the hearing.

In a later interview, Ortiz y Pino said such campaigns “are overlooked these days”.

A public education effort focused on birth control and sexually transmitted diseases needs additional support, he added. “Unless people use this condom, unless they are trained to use them, if we don’t encourage people to use them and if we don’t point out all the consequences of not using them, so we’re not doing enough. “

Garcia said the coronavirus pandemic may have played a role in the growing number of sexually transmitted diseases. People feeling lonely in the midst of stay-at-home orders might have engaged in “risky behavior, perhaps meeting people on dating apps, which they may not have normally done,” he said. he declared.

Mansanares said his agency was also concerned that STIs could increase in the post-pandemic world because so many people were not receiving regular medical care.

Data from the CDC from 2019 shows that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 accounted for almost half of new sexually transmitted infections that year.

Anita Hett, the head nurse at Santa Fe Public Schools, said students attending school nurses with concerns about sexually transmitted infections are referred to the Santa Fe High School and Capital High School Adolescent Health Centers. , which are run by the Presbyterian Medical Services and serve students in the city’s public and private schools.

Robert Benon, medical director of the centers, said his staff do not see an increase in syphilis in adolescents, but there is often a “more frequent ebb and flow with chlamydia and herpes levels.” .

New Mexico is not alone in seeing rising rates of sexually transmitted infections. In 2019, there were more than 2.5 million cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia nationwide, making it the sixth consecutive year of record numbers.

Mansanares said one way to fight the spread of infections is to standardize testing during annual medical exams.

“Get tested every year, regardless of your sexual behavior,” she said. “It is easy to do.”

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