- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Congress is being lambasted for adding funding for sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention in its economic-stimulus package.

I’m sure there’s a Jay Leno joke in there somewhere.

But as my Washington Times colleague Stephen Dinan reported, critics are saying the proposed $335 million to $400 million for STD screening and prevention is misplaced.

“How in the world does STD research create jobs?” a Republican Senate aide asked in Mr. Dinan’s Jan. 29 article.

I am not sure how many new jobs are created by fighting STDs. Certainly, there would be a few.

But fighting STDs (or STIs, for sexually transmitted infections) is not just about the work. It’s about the work force.

The following two sentences are dry, but don’t turn away.

“[T]rends in STI incidence in the near future may create even greater challenges for STD prevention programs faced with limited and declining resources.

“The relatively larger size of ‘generation Y’ portends increases in the size of sexually active age groups, and the recent increases in poverty and inequality levels suggest increased vulnerability of the population to STIs, all predictors of increased STI incidence.”

Let me translate these sentences, taken from the 2007 book “Behavioral Interventions for Prevention and Control of Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” written by three of America’s top STD-prevention officials.

We are skewed.

America’s STD epidemic is spreading in all directions. And yet the nation is stingy when it comes to fighting STDs, even though:

• Some infections are deadly - e.g., HIV/AIDS, syphilis, hepatitis B, and human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical and other cancers.

• Some infections are devastating - untreated gonorrhea and chlamydia can destroy fertility, and HIV/AIDS, herpes, hepatitis B and syphilis can cause terrible problems in pregnancy, including stillbirth.

• All these infections are costly. According to a Guttmacher Institute study, new STD cases, just among young adults, just in 2000, cost $6.5 billion. The cost of all new infections (19 million) is $14.7 billion, according to the American Social Health Association (ASHA).

Second, the 78 million-strong Generation Y is coming of age. Half their 1982-02 cohort is in their teens or young adulthood. Awaiting them in the great hook-up, cohabiting, MTV spring break, booty-call culture are at least 25 different STDs.

Federal spending on STDs last year was $1 billion, two-thirds of which targeted HIV/AIDS.

ASHA has an interactive graphic showing what states spend per capita on STD prevention. California, for instance, spends 15 cents per person fighting STDs. Maryland spends 11 cents. Louisiana leads the nation with $1.55 per capita, but many states, including President Obama’s home state of Illinois, spend less than one penny per person fighting STDs, ASHA’s graphic shows.

Does fighting STDs create jobs? Probably a few, but not that many.

But if Congress cares about reducing national health care costs and keeping workers healthy and productive, stuffing a little STD prevention money in the package might be a wise thing to do.

• E-mail Cheryl Wetzstein.