- Between 1995 and 1997, this city/metropolitan area recorded 495 cases of chlamydia, or a rate of 125.6 per 100,000 residents.
- In terms of gonorrhea, 24.4 cases per 100,000 residents were reported, which translates out to 96 cases in that two-year period.
- Syphilis was nonexistent throughout the Blair County metro area, with no cases reported.
Flash forward nearly two decades, and you can see Altoona has been overwhelmed with more cases of sexually transmitted diseases. The two-year period between 2010 and 2012 produced alarmingly staggering numbers.
- There were a reported 930 cases of chlamydia, or nearly 244 cases per 100,000 residents. That’s nearly double the number reported in the mid-1990s.
- Gonorrhea numbers went from 96 to 154 in that 15-year time span, or 40.4 cases per 100,000 population.
- After completely blanking on syphilis in the mid-1990s, the city reported four syphilis cases between 2010 and 2012.
These cases were reported despite the presence of three hospitals in the city. Sexually transmitted diseases and the area’s pregnancy rate may have a big deal to do with what is going on in the region. Approximately 60 residents per 1,000 people reported being pregnant during the 2010-12 period, but 15.3 per 1,000 were from ages 15-18. This is down from 17.8 per 1,000 in 1995-97, but it suggests there is a problem with unplanned or teenage pregnancies in the Altoona, Pennsylvania and Blair County region.
Area hospitals have STD testing readily available for people who want to get checked out for events such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV and syphilis. But what is done to educate residents within the city limits about ways to prevent these diseases from happening in the future? In other words, how does a man or woman avoid becoming a statistic for the first time? How do they know what herpes testing is available? How about HIV testing?
Programs are offered within Blair County that try and educate, or prevent, sexually transmitted diseases from taking place. Most of these programs are offered within the confines of area hospitals, as there are no family planning centers within the area itself that offer screening, exams, and counseling for clients who may have been exposed.
The dramatic rise in STD rates has encouraged school districts to start funding money toward HIV and STD education and free STD testing. School districts have offered ways to learn about STD education and stopping the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
As recently as 2009, many school districts in Pennsylvania believed it was up to the parents to teach their kids about sex education, and the numbers of students being taught varied wildly by the district. The Altoona Mirror, the city’s newspaper, did report that a “teen parent” program has been in place and about 20 people participated at the end of that decade.
The population of this city is equally split 50-50, but the household income of $35,492 is below the state median of approximately $52,000. Altoona is overwhelmingly white, as in 92.9 percent Caucasian, with a smattering of other races and representations throughout the metropolitan region.
Unemployment in the region is around 9.2 percent. What this suggests is a region that has not fully recovered from the Great Recession or the economic crises of years past. The area is now home to a college campus (Penn State-Altoona) and also has other strong colleges within the region. However, the manufacturing jobs and those jobs that relied on a strong rail system of years past have largely vanished. Like many cities, the switch from a manufacturing to a service economy has resulted in lower-paying jobs and fewer opportunities for families to get ahead.
The city has a general good health condition of around 55 percent, which is the same as the state. This suggests the city has a decent record when compared with other major cities around the state.
Three high schools exist around the area, one of which is a public school. Approximately 23 percent of the citizens are under the age of 18, but what is being done to address sexually transmitted diseases in the region remains to be seen. It seems like conditions are improving in the area, but how this will affect city residents now are yet to be determined.
The hilly region and other close cities sit in are full of reminders of the older years. The city is sprawled out, a remnant of the old days when the population approached 80,000 residents close to 80 years ago. It has been a slow decline ever since. The STD rate may be indicative of the lack of opportunities available to residents as the years have gone by. With more and more education, the rates may go down for illnesses like gonorrhea and chlamydia. Crime rates in the area have declined markedly as the economy gets better, so the question remains how the city will be affected and what will happen to residents as more opportunities make themselves known. The presence of hospitals and family centers willing to educate is a big plus, and perhaps we may yet see a turnaround in STD rates within the south central region of the state.