SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Online acquaintances, a changing population and a relaxed view of risks have fueled what officials call an alarming increase in sexually transmitted diseases in South Dakota.
Chlamydia infections in the state have doubled since the late 1990s, and gonorrhea is twice as common now as it was five years ago. There also have been 17 cases of syphilis in the state this year after no cases were reported last year, according to the Argus Leader.
“It’s because the media sells sex,” said Caitlin Hicks, 22, a coffee shop worker in Sioux Falls. “Kids are getting exposed to it at a younger age and are growing up too quickly.”
State Epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger said the fear of AIDS that swept the public consciousness in the 1980s helped curtail other diseases as well. That is not the case anymore because treatments for HIV-AIDS have improved, he said.
“With gonorrhea, we’re at rates we haven’t seen since the 1980s. Chlamydia has never been this high,” Kightlinger said.
The state has worked with federal officials to control and treat STDs. Two physicians from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spent two weeks in South Dakota at the invitation of the Northern Plains Tribal Epidemiology Center in Rapid City and officials on the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River reservations, Kightlinger said. One result has been what health officials call expedited partner therapy to treat gonorrhea, where one person can deliver medication to another who is reluctant to step forward.
In Sioux Falls, the state’s largest city, health officials began a program last summer to combat HIV-AIDS that also addresses other diseases, using a three-year $390,000 grant from the CDC channeled through the state Health Department. City officials have offered HIV testing at a variety of events since June and offer it each Monday at a community health clinic.
“We’re trying to de-stigmatize testing for STDs,” city Health Director Jill Franken said.