News Sexual Health

We have a “lot of work to do” toward sexual health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released its annual STD Surveillance Report which shows that across the nation, “STDs increased for the fifth consecutive year, reaching an all-time high…with nearly 2.5 million combined cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.” Washington University in St. Louis and the Institute for Public Health are collaborating with local health officials and community partners to help reduce these rates.

Hillary Reno, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Disease at Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) and an Institute for Public Health Faculty Scholar says testing and prevention is key, but education and engaging more with patients about their sexual health needs is just as important.

“Without stigma free, high quality, accessible care (testing, treatment, prevention messaging, and follow up care) we cannot hope to improve disparities in sexual health or STI/ HIV rates,” says Dr. Reno.

According to the CDC report, St. Louis area ranks 16th in the nation for chlamydia, 12th for gonorrhea, and 25th for primary and secondary syphilis. Dr. Reno says these figures indicate that sexually transmitted infection rates are increasing locally just as they are throughout the U.S. “We have a lot of work to do and sexual health will continue to be a focus of all of our agencies and our collaborations,” she says.

Some of those collaborations include:

  • St. Louis County Department of Public Health and WUSM partner to provide medical directorship of the Sexual Health Clinic at the North Central Community Health Center (Pine Lawn, MO), which provides sexual healthcare, testing, and treatment to more than 9,000 patients each year, free of charge.
  • Supporting Positive Opportunities with Teens (The SPOT): A clinic of the WUSM in the Central West End where youth between the ages of 13-24 can access free medical and social services in a safe, youth-friendly and comfortable environment.
  • The St. Louis Regional Response Coalition (STIRR), supported by the Institute for Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis and the St. Louis STD/ HIV Prevention Training Center at WUSM works to improve care for patients with STIs throughout the St. Louis area. With more than 40 member organizations, the coalition has helped lead the development of a Community Health Action Team five-year plan.
  • Institute for Public Health: A recent Next Steps in Sexual Health convening brought together partners from many sectors to discuss ways to improve sexual health here and across the region. Read the full report and recommendations for action.

As low-income or uninsured patients rely on emergency departments or urgent care facilities for STD testing or treatment, or go without care altogether, there is a strong case for adding more low-cost or free, combined  treatment and testing facilities in our area. “Expanding the reach of programs like The SPOT where testing and treatment is provided on a free walk-in basis is critical to increase access to care,” says Dr. Katie Plax, Medical Director of The SPOT.

Other suggestions from the Institute for Public Health “Next Steps” event aimed at helping reduce climbing STD rates, include further education: expanding school-based clinics, reducing public stigma, engaging parents and non-traditional partners in STD education efforts and normalizing sex education outside of schools. A full list of recommendations can be found in the full report.

In its recent report, the CDC says it is developing a “Sexually Transmitted Infections Federal Action Plan to address and reverse the nation’s STD epidemic.” That plan will be released in 2020, however, “urgent action from all types of stakeholders is needed…” the CDC says. Meanwhile the Institute for Public Health will continue to collaborate with partners from across the region on the recommendations identified in the Next Steps report.