BY JENEE GREGOR
Chlamydia rates are at a 10-year high for the reported case numbers in Washtenaw County from 2015. Gonorrhea is also at a five-year high for newly diagnosed cases last year, showing a need for more education and outreach in the area to hopefully bring the numbers back down.
Free testing, information and care options were available through the Washtenaw Public Health Department at WCC in early March in the Student Center. Possibly 150 – 200 people came to their booth to talk about the services offered. This opportunity was led by Heather Wolf, the Washtenaw Public Health prevention specialist, social worker, partner notification manager and sexual health resource at the Washtenaw County clinic.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are bacterial infections that can be cured with a week of abstinence, antibiotics and education. Although, they can cause more serious problems down the line if not properly dealt with.
The higher-risk age group that have been diagnosed has been concentrated in people under the age of 30 in Washtenaw County. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are a problem because they are asymptomatic in many cases, and someone only knows they have it if and when they test positive. If they aren’t being tested, they can be spreading the illness without knowing, Wolf said.
“There is nothing that says you have to get tested a certain amount every year, or years; everyone’s risk looks different,” Wolf said. “Testing doesn’t directly lower your risk, but it will let you know if you have something and we can do something about it.”
Gauging the risk is an important part of the conversation, understanding high risk behavior for contraction of an STI, and understanding how that behavior can be changed to change your risk level is all part of the process, said Wolf.
“Education impacts behavior, so if someone is better educated hopefully they will make better choices with (sexual) behavior,” said Rene Stark, doctorate of nursing and instructor in the nursing aide training program at WCC.
Helping people understand their risk to make more empowered decisions about their sexuality is a concern and goal within this organization, and many of the other clinics. They offer the non-judgmental information and resources to their respective community to alleviate the problems of STIs, as well as helping the same people to get insured if they are not to help pay for the health care and testing.
There are quite a few options for education and testing in the Washtenaw area that can be utilized, at a low-cost or some for free, outside of the Washtenaw Public Health Department clinic.
“Education is power,” said Cherelle Barksdale, the case manager for chlamydia and gonorrhea at Corner Health. Corner Health is a clinic that provides education and outreach as well as testing and counseling for people aged 12-26.
The numbers at Corner Health are the same as the numbers with Washtenaw Public Health records and the numbers seem to be decreasing with their records and they are seeing an improvement, said Barksdale.
There are many options in Washtenaw County to get tested, request information, and even get insurance. Individuals having insurance allows medical accessibility and care and treatment.
Organizations like the the non-profit organization Washtenaw Health Plan, have a goal of taking the number of those uninsured down to a zero, and making sure that people have access to all types of health care and sexual care, and in three years from 2013 – 2016, the uninsured in Washtenaw County has gone from 13 percent down to 6 percent, said Krista Nordberg, the director of enrollment at WHP. They work with Coverage Counts to inform residents about the opportunity for coverage and have the proper information to attain the medical care they need.
Washtenaw County has numerous options when it comes to taking care of sexual health. Washtenaw Public Health Center, Planned Parenthood and Corner Health have programs and resources available to make testing, and getting insured more accessible.