With picturesque Chesapeake Bay in the background it can be difficult for residents to accept that this historic city is currently seeing a rapid increase in the number of sexually transmitted diseases reported each year.
One of seven cities that make up the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, statistics show that STD rates have been steadily climbing for the past twenty years. The city has consistently had one of the highest rates of infection in the state, and statistics indicate that this trend is expected to continue.
In 2010 the area had the second highest number of Chlamydia incidents in the U.S. and ranked third in the nation for Gonorrhea. The city also has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates. Over the past few years these numbers have significantly increased, though there is a slight indication that Chlamydia diagnoses may be on the decline. These alarming statistics has resulted in the director of Eastern Virginia Medical School to refer to the problem as an “epidemic”.
Some of the statistics released over the past twenty years that show how quickly these diseases can spread when residents do not take care of their sexual health include,
- African American residents accounted for 76 percent of the Gonorrhea diagnoses between 2005 and 2009.
- In 2010 area clinics were consistently treating around 2,000 HIV positive residents a day.
- HIV rates rose 93 percent in men ages 13 to 24 during the five year period from 2001 to 2006.
Even with statistics showing that Hampton and the other six cities in the area are currently seeing an “STD epidemic”, officials and parents are still reluctant to implement comprehensive sexual education programs in the public school system.
Instead of providing students with the information they need to protect themselves, educators are still relying on the outdated abstinence only programs recommended by the federal government. While the area does receive much needed funding for teaching abstinence only, the extra money is not covering the skyrocketing health care costs that are caused by the increase in STDs.
When comprehensive sexual education programs are lacking in the school system, students aren’t able to get the information they need to protect themselves from transmittable diseases. While practicing abstinence will prevent pregnancy, it does not prevent the spread of all STDs. Not all sexually transmittable viruses are passed solely through intercourse, which means abstinence is not always an effective method at preventing the spread of STDs. This is one of the reasons why Herpes is commonly found in area high schools, since the virus can be spread without having sex.
Regular Herpes testing in Hampton is important for teens and adults, and it is the only way to completely eradicate the virus from area schools. Regular HIV testing in Hampton is also critical for everyone’s health, and with at least one new case being reported in the area each day it is also the smart thing to do to protect yourself.
The diverse demographics of the area might add to its appeal, but it is also affecting the STD rates. The region is home to one of the nation’s largest naval bases and the constant influx of sailors on leave is a contributing factor to the high number of residents who test positive for an STD each year. Even though the Navy is actively stepping up its STD awareness program, many officials worry that it might not be enough to make a difference. STD testing is now a required part of an annual physical, but this still gives someone plenty of time to unknowingly spread the disease.
What truly caused Hampton and the other six cities in the metropolitan area to see STD rates soar was the recent budget cuts that forced many clinics and health care facilities to shut down. With more than one million dollars lost in funding, many neighborhood education programs were also forced to suspend education. This has made it extremely difficult for residents to get the health care advice and support they need, especially when it comes to STDs.
Strong conservative and religious beliefs have made it almost impossible for health care professionals to inform residents about the dangers associated with STDs. Without community health care centers it is difficult for residents to get tested regularly, and the few that are still open often have extremely long waiting periods. With the number of new diagnoses increasing each year and more budget cuts looming for the few remaining clinics, health officials warn that the STD rates are only going to increase.
As STD rates continue to soar, many residents still aren’t paying attention to their sexual health. With plenty to see and do in the historic city and a shortage of community centers, it is easy to put off getting testing. Even using protection during sexual activity and being careful won’t always prevent a STD. You can avoid the long lines and schedule confidential STD testing with one simple phone call and only spend a few minutes at a local lab, which still gives you plenty of time to explore the greater Hampton metro area.