Additional STD Test Statistics in Pontiac, SC
Like for most of the United States, South Carolina and the Pontiac and Richland County areas of the state have seen a recent uptick in STD incidence rates. This increase has been seen for chlamydia and gonorrhea, as well as for syphilis which has recently re-emerged as a significant public health concern (particularly in economically depressed areas of the Upper Midwest).
Yet, despite these alarming numbers and ongoing concerns about failures in our country’s sexual health education policies and programs, there are some areas for optimism if we look at recent figures from South Carolina. For example, the number of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases has plummeted in the last 10 years. In 2006, 314 black males were diagnosed with HIV. The comparable statistic for 2015 was only 180. Looking at statistics for white males, one can see a similar decline. In 2006, there were 104 newly diagnosed cases whereas in 2015 there were only 58. It is important to note though that the majority of the cases continue to be diagnosed in Richland County, and that blacks, and particularly black males, make up a disproportionate percentage of the HIV/AIDS cases in the state and the county.
However, the optimism of the HIV/AIDS numbers is seriously tempered by continuing disturbing trends in reported gonorrhea and chlamydia cases in Richland County, particularly among the youngest demographic groups.
For each year between 2012 and 2014, approximately 3,000 chlamydia cases were reported each year in Richland County. This figure represents well over 10 percent of the state’s total number of chlamydia infections. And gonorrhea incidence figures were eerily similar. In 2014, Richland County recorded more than 900 gonorrhea cases, which represented roughly 11 percent of the state’s total number of cases.
And it is not just gonorrhea and chlamydia figures that raise public health alarm bells. In the last decade, syphilis rates have spiked across the country, and South Carolina is experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of diagnosed syphilis cases. In fact, despite a relatively small population, South Carolina now ranks 18th in the country in reported syphilis infections. Perhaps most disturbingly, there has also been a dramatic increase in the number of cases of syphilis being transmitted in utero, often with incredibly damaging effects for the newborn.
STD Testing and Sexual Health Education in Pontiac, SC
As with many states in the southern part of the United States, sexual health education lags behind best practice standards in South Carolina as a whole, and more specifically in the Pontiac and Richland County communities. Rather than providing comprehensive, fact-based sexual health education most school programs are abstinence-only. Evidence indicates that these abstinence-only programs do not reduce the rate of sexual activity among junior high and high school students they simply make the sexual health practices that young adults use less safe. This lack of evidence-based and comprehensive education helps explain, at least in part, why gonorrhea and chlamydia rates are so high in the community.
At the moment, in Pontiac, sexual health education largely falls on the shoulders of individual parents. However, there are programs, like the Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services that actively work to provide education and other information to young and vulnerable residents of Columbia and surrounding communities. PALSS clearly articulates that its mission is to foster open dialogue about sexual health and safe sexual health practices among young gay and bisexual men in the community — and this is done via numerous community-based initiatives. Yet, one organization cannot service an entire community and county’s needs, and thus, many young people fall through the cracks in terms of sexual health education.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Demographics in Pontiac, SC
According to the most recent available statistics, Pontiac, South Carolina has a population that hovers just south of 50,000 people. Although there are a handful of employers in the community, the majority of the town’s affluent and well-educated population commute less than 20-minutes to jobs in the state capital of Columbia. A handful of residents travel even further for work, driving well over an hour to Charlotte, North Carolina (which is almost straight north of Pontiac).
These same statistics indicate that the average household income in Pontiac is almost $30,000 per year higher than for the State as a whole. Yet, despite this strong economy, the cost of living in Pontiac still lags behind national averages, even if it is more expensive than many similarly sized cities in the South. Given that this is an extremely prosperous area of the State, it is somewhat surprising that STD infection rates are as high as they are for the Pontiac and Richland County areas. In general, higher rates of income and education tend to be associated with lower levels of unhealthy sexual behaviors and choices. And this in turn tends to result in lower STD infection rates.
Pontiac is a relatively diverse community. Approximately 60 percent of the community is made up of white residents, and blacks account for another roughly 30 percent of the population. There are also a handful of Hispanic and Asian residents in the town. A significant percentage of the town’s residents are currently married, and more than 40 percent of Pontiac citizens have a college degree or higher. Again, these are demographic trends that one would generally associate with lower rates of STD infection.
STI Testing Resources in Pontiac, SC
Given the relatively small size of the Pontiac, South Carolina community, it is not surprising that there are not a lot of testing choices directly in Pontiac. Most private doctors’ offices in the community, however, do offer testing for their patients. And testing choices expand dramatically if a patient is willing to travel less than 20 minutes to Columbia, South Carolina. In Columbia, patients can choose from having testing performed at private clinics to utilizing specialized testing centers, like Midlands Exam and Drug Screening and Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services (although testing at Palmetto is focused on providing immediate result HIV/AIDS screening). Some of these testing centers, like Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services offer comprehensive counseling and a range of social support to impacted clients, whereas other test centers, such as Sure Screen Labs and Any Lab Test Now, are focused simply on testing a patient and providing the results to the patient. The patient then needs to find follow-up care if necessary.
In addition to the various testing options highlighted above, there is also a heavily utilized Planned Parenthood Clinic in Columbia, South Carolina. This clinic provides comprehensive services to both male and female clients. In addition to testing and other diagnostics, it also provides abortion services. Although appointments can sometimes be difficult to book, because of heavy demand, there are walk-in hours available for people who are looking for the morning after pill.
Although most residents of Pontiac, South Carolina are relatively affluent, and are thus not dissuaded by costs from testing, the price of STD screens may be a concern for some residents, particularly high school students. For the price conscious consumer, the Richland County Health Department offers STD screening on a sliding fee scale, and the Department also accepts Medicaid for payment. It is important to note, however, that this STD screening is not as comprehensive as what may be available at some of the other options. For example, the County Health Department does not screen for hepatitis or herpes.
Better Sexual Health in Pontiac, SC
Pontiac, South Carolina is a charming community with traditional Southern ambiance located in close proximity to the booming state capital of Columbia. Combining the small town charm of Pontiac with the active culture and nightlife of Columbia means that there is something to appeal to everyone, both residents and tourists alike. In addition to these exciting opportunities, Pontiac is also a thriving area economically. Its household incomes and housing prices far outstrip the figures that are seen in much of the rest of South Carolina. But, all of these positives does not mean that Pontiac is perfect or that the community does not face challenges. One of the most pressing challenges in the Pontiac and Richland County area is the soaring rates of STD infections.
Although it would be easy for residents of Pontiac to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that these problems do not exist in the community, this will not achieve any public good. Instead, the community needs to focus on more effectively educating younger residents about safe sexual health practices and encouraging residents across all demographic groups to be regularly tested for STDs.