The number of people with sexually transmitted infections has hit a 10-year high in El Paso.
There were more than 7,600 new STI cases in 2017, up 11 percent from 2016, according to the latest report from the El Paso Department of Public Health.
These conditions, sometimes referred to as sexually transmitted diseases, are contracted by half of the population under 25, according to the American Sexual Health Association.
“We’re not seeing a rise in a specific demographic,” said Emily Robinson, a family nurse practitioner at the Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas’ El Paso clinic. “We’re seeing a rise across the board. This isn’t specific to El Paso. We’re seeing a rise of STIs nationwide.”
Nationally, 2017 was the fourth consecutive year STI rates increased, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The majority of patients don’t realize they have an STI, Robinson said.
For most people, there are no symptoms.
“They usually discover they have an STI by chance,” Robinson said. “We recommend anybody get screened because everybody is at risk. People who are in a long-term relationship are still at risk because they may have had an STI from a previous relationship.”
She recommended annual tests for any sexually active person.
“If you have a more high-risk lifestyle or you’re not in a committed monogamous relationship, more screening would certainly be beneficial,” she said.
A standard STI test costs less than $200 out of pocket, she said. But most patients pay much less.
“A standard STI panel would be chlamydia and gonorrhea, which are the two most common, and HIV and syphilis,” Robinson said.
These tests usually don’t require an exam, only urine and blood samples.
“There are some people who prefer to have it done every three months, there are some people who prefer to have it done every six. We recommend at least once a year,” she said.
The biggest barrier to proper treatment, she said, was the patients themselves. The rising number of STI cases in El Paso and around the country are linked to the negative stigma around the infections.
“It’s something that people are embarrassed to talk about,” Robinson said. “It’s something that people think is a very bad thing. They don’t understand it’s just a normal part of health care. The majority of STIs are curable, and they’re all treatable.”
Although the Planned Parenthood’s new El Paso clinic has a full-time outreach coordinator to spread awareness of the need for testing, Robinson said it was likely the number of STI cases in 2018 would continue the upward trend. The data are set to be released at the end of 2019.
“People are just avoiding getting tested,” Robinson said. “It’s incredibly easy to pass along an infection when you’re sexually active. You could be passing it along to several people and those people are passing it along to several people and it just multiplies very quickly.”