As the CDC and New Mexico State Health Department continue to release new statistics each year it is getting harder for city and county officials to ignore the growing STD problem. The rates for all infectious diseases are rising at an alarming rate, and this includes Syphilis and HIV.
In 2011 the HIV prevalence rate was 133 per 100,000 residents and by 2014 it had risen to 157. As of April 2016, the HIV rate is already being reported at 167 incidents per 100,000 residents and this is before the year is even over.
While the growing number of residents who are infected with HIV/AIDS is cause for alarm, it is also not the only sexually transmitted disease on the rise. The city and surrounding Dona Ana County reported the 3rd highest Chlamydia rate in 2012, and it was also significantly higher than state averages.
The statistics also show that Gonorrhea and Hepatitis B rates are increasing in Hispanic and Native American residents, and have been for the last twenty years. Residents in the 18 to 24 age bracket are among those with the greatest risk for contracting Gonorrhea and Chlamydia, while Syphilis incidents are increasing in older men. As these and other infectious disease rates continue to climb, the need for regular STD testing also increases.
Some of the statistics that highlight the importance of regular STD screenings include,
- In 2012 the Chlamydia rate for the county was reported at 698.5 per 100,000 residents compared to the state average of 573.2.
- In the first half of 2016 there were 290 cases of HIV reported, compared to 267 in 2015.
- Overall the state has seen an increase in HIV rates since 2007, while the national averages have been decreasing.
Like many states New Mexico does not require its public school districts to include any information in its sex education programs about STDs, contraceptives or the importance of regular testing. It does follow the federal guidelines set down in the 1980’s during the AIDS epidemic that requires public schools to educate students on the spread of HIV and the benefits of abstinence.
Since the state and county have a teen birth rate higher than the national averages, these outdated sex education programs no longer seem to be effective. The main problem with the older sex education classes is simply that the information is outdated. It does not apply to the problems teens face today, which is putting them at risk.
Not only do teens and young adults not understand the risks associated with their behaviors, the lack of comprehensive sex education programs has also left many of them with no one to talk to. Most do not even know that they should be getting tested regularly, even if they are not sexually active.
This includes regular Herpes testing in Las Cruces and studies has shown that this is an effective way to stop the spread of this virus which is common in area high schools. Regular HIV testing in Las Cruces is not only important for teens, it is something that every resident should do.
In a recently broadcast public forum different community leaders can together to discuss the reasons for the rising STD rates in the city and county. While their political and religious views varied, along with ethnic backgrounds the one thing they all agreed on was that there was STDs were a problem in the community.
The discussion highlighted many of the reasons for the high STD rates, especially in the African and Native American communities. An inability to afford regular health care and testing is a problem, and with the recent budget cuts over the last 10 years it is getting harder for residents to find an affordable option.
Community leaders from the Navajo Reservation stated that it is difficult for teens and young adults to find someone to talk to. The subject of sex is rarely brought up, and this is also one of the reasons for the high rate of teen pregnancy. Most Native Americans and other residents do not understand how STDs are spread, and since there is not a comprehensive sex education program in place in the schools very few realize how important it is to use protection
Until everyone understands the risk sexually transmitted diseases present to their health and how to stop the spread of these viruses, the number of STDs reported each year will continue to rise.
Before you head up into the Organ Mountains or decide to spend the day floating down the winding Rio Grande it is important for your health, and those around you to be tested for all of the sexually transmitted diseases. If you don’t want to spend the day sitting in a crowded waiting room you can avoid the clinics and schedule confidential STD testing instead. All it takes is one quick phone call and a few minutes of your time at a local lab and you can feel good knowing that you took care of your sexual health.