Sexually transmitted diseases and infections continue to increase in Oklahoma, according to the State Department of Health Sexual Health and Harm Reduction Service.
The mission of the service is "to protect and promote the public's health by intervening in the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and hepatitis C (HCV)."
“Anyone who has sex is at risk for a sexually transmitted infection, regardless of age, race, or lifestyle,” said Jamie Dukes with the OSDH.
Dukes said that for the sake of prevention, the OSDH Sexual Health and Harm Reduction Service encourages reducing stigma by normalizing talk about sexual health. Residents are encouraged to talk with their health care providers about their sexual relationships, as well as communicate with sexual partners about protection from and the development of STDs.
“Using a condom for every sexual encounter is proved to help prevent unintended pregnancies, as well as spreading a diagnosed or undiagnosed infection to a partner,” said Dukes. “It's important to remember that many infections do not present signs or symptoms, and the only way to know if a person has an infection is through testing.”
Dukes said the state is also seeing an increase in cases associated with injection drug use, as people are exchanging sex for drugs, safety, or money.
While the OSDH website offers data related to STDs, the numbers may be a year or more old. Dukes provided information to give a picture of STDs in Oklahoma for 2019, the OSDH’s most recent data collection year. She included information specific to Cherokee County, which according to OSDH has approximately 48,600 residents, with an average age of 37 years.
The total number of cases of chlamydia in Oklahoma was 23,518. Cherokee County had 335 cases of chlamydia at a rate of 688.5 per 100,000.
“This was higher than the state rate for chlamydia: 594.3 per 100,000 population,” said Dukes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chlamydia is a common STD that can infect both men and women, and can be easily cured. If left untreated, chlamydia can cause permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system and make it difficult to get pregnant.
Most people who have chlamydia have no symptoms, but those who do may not develop symptoms until several weeks after they have sex with an infected partner. Women with symptoms may notice an abnormal vaginal discharge, and-or a burning sensation when urinating. Symptoms in men can include a discharge from their penis; a burning sensation when urinating; and-or pain and swelling in one or both testicles.
Men rarely have health problems linked to chlamydia, but for women, untreated chlamydia can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, which can cause pelvic inflammatory disease. Chlamydia can be cured with the right treatment, but repeat infections are common. Patients should be tested again about three months after they are treated, even if their sex partners were treated.
The total number of gonorrhea cases in the state was 10,491. Cherokee County had 119 cases of gonorrhea at a rate of 244.6 per 100,000, while the state rate for gonorrhea was 265.1 per 100,000 population.
Gonorrhea can infect both men and women, and it can cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat. According to the CDC, gonorrhea is a common infection, especially among young people ages 15-24 years.
Most women with gonorrhea do not have any symptoms, but they are still at risk of developing serious complications from the infection. Symptoms in women can include painful or burning sensation when urinating; increased vaginal discharge; and-or vaginal bleeding between periods. The symptoms may be mild and can be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. A pregnant woman with gonorrhea can give the infection to her baby during childbirth. Some men with gonorrhea may have no symptoms at all, but the signs can include a burning sensation when urinating; a white, yellow, or green discharge from the penis; and-or painful or swollen testicles.
Gonorrhea can be cured with the right treatment. Although medication will stop the infection, it will not repair permanent damage done by the disease. According to the CDC, "antimicrobial resistance in gonorrhea is of increasing concern, and successful treatment of gonorrhea is becoming more difficult."
Syphilis is divided into stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. There are different signs and symptoms associated with each stage. The total cases of primary and secondary syphilis in Oklahoma was 791.
“In 2019, there were five cases of primary and secondary syphilis in Cherokee County at a rate of 10.3 per 100,000. For comparison purposes, the state rate for primary and secondary syphilis in 2019 was 20.0 per 100,000 population,” said Dukes.
Those infected with syphilis may find sores on or around the penis, vagina, or anus, or in the rectum, on the lips, or in the mouth. A person with primary syphilis generally has a sore or sores at the original site of infection, and symptoms of secondary syphilis include skin rash, swollen lymph nodes, and fever. Syphilis can be cured with the right antibiotics, but patients can still be reinfected.
For more information about STD symptoms, treatment, and prevention, contact the Cherokee County Health Department, 912 S. College Ave., 918-456-8826; or visit https://oklahoma.gov/health/prevention-and-preparedness/sexual-health-and-harm-reduction-service.html.