MALONE — Cases of the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia increased 44 percent in 2011 for Franklin County teens between ages 15 and 19.
Public Health Director Katie Strack said a survey is under way to determine if the higher numbers are a result of more testing, if more young people are having unprotected sex earlier in life or they have limited access to condoms.
She said increased public awareness about chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases and the availability of free condoms through her offices could bring those numbers down.
The issue was discussed during a recent County Legislature budget workshop, where Strack reviewed her projected spending for 2013 and asked for an extra $10,000 to fight STDs.
She said there were 62 cases of chlamydia in 2010 compared to 87 in 2011 for the 15-to-19 age group.
There were six cases of gonorrhea in 2010 and two in 2011, and one case of syphilis in 2010 and none in 2011, she said.
“It’s abominable,” Strack said of the chlamydia statistics.
Her agency, she added, will be making even more of an effort to get condoms to teens and raise awareness about the long-term dangers of developing the disease or having it go untreated.
Clinton County has seen more cases of chlamydia in all age groups recently, said Laurie Williams, the health-education coordinator there.
There were 183 cases of chlamydia in 2010 and 205 in 2011, she said.
There were 10 cases of gonorrhea in 2010 compared to 15 in 2011, and total cases of syphilis was up from 1 in 2010 to 12 in 2011 in Clinton County.
“Chlamydia has increased significantly in our county and the region over the last several years,” Williams said in an email. “This is not always an indication of disease increase, but rather, when you start looking for something, you will find it.”
Kathy Daggett, director of preventive services for Essex County Public Health, said there were 17 cases of chlamydia in both 2010 and 2011 in all age groups, but there have been 27 cases reported so far in 2012.
“It’s on the rise, and that’s what people need to be aware of,” she said. “Anyone can get it. You’re not invulnerable.”
At the same time, cases of gonorrhea went from zero in 2010 to four in 2011, and cases of syphilis from zero in 2010 to two in 2011 and to four so far in 2012, she said.
“We do a lot of very focused education at almost all the schools in Essex County,” Daggett said.
A nurse conducts health-education classes that include STD prevention and sexual decision making, she said. And her office provides condoms to local pharmacies that dispense them free of charge.
“The education is there. The tools are there, but STDs are still on the rise,” she said.
Strack spent $20,730 on STD and HIV control in Franklin County in 2010, but that increased to $30,535 in 2011.
She has asked for $40,000 in 2013, but County Manager and Budget Officer Thomas Leitz is recommending the limit remain at $30,535.
“Most of the expense is the cost to be treated because we have to send them to a doctor who gives them medication right away,” Strack said. “It’s expensive to see a practitioner compared to the cost of a condom.
“There’s a lot a condom does: It could prevent pregnancy, it could prevent genital warts and other organisms from causing bacterial infections like gonorrhea and syphilis.”
She said a budget meeting was not the right place or time to have the discussion with legislators, but she wanted them to be forewarned in case constituents object to what Public Health is doing to combat this growing problem.
That includes offering free condoms to teenagers who ask for them and dispensing them at health fairs and other events in schools or other places where the agency has manned informational displays.
“The county has an obligation to pay for the care of its county residents,” she said. “And the legislators realize that spending needs to increase.”
Strack said younger teens in the target age group having unprotected sex may be too embarrassed to obtain condoms, don’t know where to get them or aren’t aware they can get them free through Public Health.
She also has protective containers for a condom carried in a wallet so it is not torn or destroyed before use.
Anyone calling the Communicable Disease Unit at 481-1587 or the main number at 481-1710 can arrange to pick up a free supply of condoms at either Public Health office in Malone or Saranac Lake or arrange delivery.
“It’s a confidential, anonymous and discreet way to get them,” Strack said.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, chlamydia is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that can cause infertility in sexually active women if left untreated.
It can be transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex and can be passed from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal childbirth, the CDC states.
The more sex partners a person has, the higher the risk for infection. Teenage girls are more susceptible to infection because their bodies are not fully developed sexually; both men and woman can contract the disease.
Symptoms can include an unusual vaginal or penile discharge or a burning sensation during urination in either gender. A urine or specimen test can diagnose the disease, which is typically treated with antibiotics.
Email Denise A. Raymo: email@example.com