OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – For years, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases and infections in Douglas County has far exceeded the national average.
Health officials say the pandemic is exacerbating the problem.
“Chlamydia remains our highest STI that we see, and that hasn’t changed, and you can see the rates for that have gone up,” Douglas County Health Director Dr. Lindsay Huse said. at the May public health board meeting.
“Because it’s a very intensive in-person service, the pandemic has really disrupted our STD activities,” she says. “Right now, our focus is really on restoring those pre-pandemic STI activities, including education, outreach, and testing.”
In 2021, Douglas County Health only saw 1,062 patients get tested at their clinics.
“Again, that’s because we’ve only been open for about a week in 2021, most of our staff have been focused on helping with COVID vaccinations and other efforts there,” Huse admits.
That number, 1,062, represents a third of the number of patients who were tested in 2020, which was already well below average compared to previous years.
Nebraska Medicine clinics say they, too, are seeing fewer and fewer patients coming in for testing.
“The problem with diagnosing STDs is that you can’t do a lot of it over telehealth or over the phone, you actually have to see people, you have to have tests, maybe treatment, it’s often an injection, and so it has to be something done in person, and that has been increasingly difficult during the pandemic,” says Dr. Susan Swindells, founder of the UNMC HIV Clinic.
Huse and Swindells say the fear is that there are many more STDs and STIs in the community than reported. And if they can bring testing back to pre-pandemic levels, the numbers will likely show it.
“Normally we would have patients every few months and do routine screening,” says Swindells. “And it all went out the window.”
Over the past two years, Douglas County health reports say they have seen an increase in chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and even a slight increase in HIV.
“We have known about HIV for about 40 years, we know how it is transmitted, realistically we should not see new patients in our clinic, and yet every week we see some. Every week,” Swindell says.
Swindell says 40% of patients who come to his clinic are younger members of the black community. Dr. Huse says members of the black community are also disproportionately affected by STDs and STIs in Douglas County.
A major problem remains the stigma surrounding STDs, Swindells says. Once the community can move past this, they can better combat problems.
Douglas County has brought back regular testing clinics through the health department, you can find updated lists of locations and times here.
They will also implement a home-based STI screening project, as well as increased awareness and education on how STDs and STIs are transmitted.
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