Since the city is home to a large population of college students officials expected the STD rates to be relatively high for South Bend, but no one expected the latest statistics released by the St. Joseph County Health Department.
Over the past twenty years the number of sexually transmitted diseases has been climbing steadily, and are now close to or above state averages. Chlamydia and Gonorrhea incidents are common in teens and college age residents, and these diseases are affecting men and women of all ethnicities. The Herpes virus is becoming more prevalent in high schools, and even Hepatitis B and C diagnoses are on the rise.
What is truly alarming to county health officials is the rising number of residents in the city that are testing positive for HIV. While proactive measures were taken in the 1980’s to slow the spread of this potentially deadly disease, these programs have since stopped and the rate of infection is rising again.
What is really surprising to state and local health officials is the growing number of older residents that are testing positive for primary or secondary Syphilis. In some cases not only was the Syphilis virus present but also Gonorrhea, especially among homosexual men. As the STD rates continue to climb each year it is important for everyone, regardless of their sexual inclination to be tested for all STDs.
Some of the statistics that highlight the importance of regular testing include,
- It was estimated in 2015 that 50.7 percent of South Bend residents had never been tested for HIV/AIDS.
- An alarming 3.1 percent of residents refused HIV testing when offered, according to a 2015 poll taken by the St. Joseph County Health Department.
- Only 13.2 percent of all HIV tests performed in the county were done because the patient was concerned about their sexual health.
The 2015-2016 academic year saw changes to the current sex education program offered in the city’s public schools. While abstinence is still an important part of the curriculum, additional information in now being taught to help keep students and residents safe from sexually transmitted diseases.
Along with current and medically accurate information on HIV that is required by the federally government, the new program also discusses the dangers associated with social media. With more teens using websites to meet other students at area schools it is even easier than ever for them to transmit a sexual disease.
Inappropriate posts are also addressed, along with the dangers of meeting someone online. While it is still too soon to tell if the new changes will have an effect on the STD rates among teens, school officials that this will be the first step in teaching students how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases for the rest of their life.
Unfortunately there is still important information left out of these classes that includes the importance of regular Herpes testing in South Bend, and how it can help prevent the embarrassing disease from occurring in the first place. Regular HIV testing in South Bend is briefly touched on, but since over 50 percent of residents have never been tested for the virus it is obvious that more needs to be done.
Health officials can point to several reasons why the STD rates for this college town are so high, starting with the nearby university. Along with students not taking the threat STDs pose to their health seriously, many simply do not know how important it is to be tested on a regular basis.
Lack of education across the board is one of the biggest contributors to the problem, but the city’s strong religious views are also playing a role. The predominately Catholic city adamantly discourages sex before marriage, and this can make it difficult for teens and young adults to find someone to talk to about any problems that might be having.
The strong religious background is also making it difficult for health officials to make sweeping changes to the current sex education programs. While the recent addition of information and discussions about online texting and dating are hopefully helping students become more aware of the danger they are putting themselves in, many officials fear that this is not enough to significantly lower STD rates.
It is also impossible to ignore the affect the university is having on the overall health rates for the area, especially since many college students are engaging in risky behaviors without even realizing it.
Studies have shown that they only effective method of preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases is to be tested regularly, but statistics make it obvious that residents are not taking this seriously. Over half have never been tested for HIV, and this is putting everyone else at risk. It is understandable that you don’t want to chance missing a Notre Dame Football game because you were stuck in a clinic, but this is also not a reason to not take care of your health. You can easily avoid the long lines simply by making one phone call to schedule confidential STD testing at a nearby lab. This way you can get tested and still make it to the game in plenty of time.