- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Figures for the first four months of this year show that rates of some sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in South Dakota.

State Epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger said syphilis rates haven’t been this high since the 1970s. HIV rates are reaching levels not seen since the 1980s.

HIV rates are up 129 percent through April this year compared to the 5-year median.

South Dakota typically has high rates of chlamydia and the rate is 18 percent higher so far this year than the 5-year median. About 168 of every 100,000 South Dakotans have chlamydia.

Syphilis rates are up more than one thousand percent so far this year compared to the 5-year median. There are 43 cases of syphilis in the state so far this year. There were 49 cases for all of 2013.

Syphilis affects 5.3 out of every 100,000 nationally and 5.2 out of every 100,000 in South Dakota.

Kightlinger said most of the past syphilis infections came from outside South Dakota.

“Now it’s homegrown syphilis in the state,” he said.

Physicians and other health care providers are hoping to quash the trend. Physicians, medical students and residents gathered in Sioux Falls Wednesday for a presentation on “Syphilis 2014: The Great Imitator Returns.”

Dr. Donna Sweet is a professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita and spoke at the Sioux Falls event. She said that syphilis rates across the nation have doubled since 2000.

She said the infection is called the “great imitator” because its symptoms can be confused with other STDs or other problems affecting the heart, eyes and neurological system.

She said the increase in syphilis cases is related to the increase in HIV cases in the state, because people with HIV are more susceptible to syphilis.

“You’re going to see more of all the sexually transmitted diseases,” Sweet said. “They’re all co-travelers.”

Sweet attributes the rise in STD rates to travel, drug use and misperceptions that oral sex is harmless or STDs are only found in big cities.

Allie Luoma, a nurse and nurse coordinator for a family planning clinic on the South Dakota State University campus, has seen an increase in STDs among college students and patients from the community.

“Even if it’s not happening to you, it might be happening to someone close to you,” Luoma said.

She and the wellness coordinator at SDSU are seeking a grant to bring in speakers for a “sex ed boot camp.”

Her office puts out information on STD rates and symptoms, encouraging students to get tested. She said students can access free condoms on campus.

The President of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse and the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls, Leslee Unruh, said her program educates young people about the risks of sexual activity.

“We don’t feel that latex is the protector,” Unruh said in reference to condoms.

She said kids have been learning about condoms for years, and still the STD rates rise. She blames the prevalence of STDs on a social “hook-up culture” in which it’s socially acceptable for people to have casual sexual encounters.

“It’s pretty scary,” Unruh said. “If you have sex with someone, you’re putting yourself at risk.”

Kightlinger said once syphilis is under control, the state can keep it that way. Disease intervention specialists and other professionals across the state will continue to screen for STDs and track down the sexual partners of people who have been infected.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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