MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — An upsurge in sexually transmitted infections and diseases can be traced to multiple factors.
According to Dr. Lee Smith, Monongalia County Health Department Executive Director, risky behavior like having unprotected sex with multiple partners continues to be a precursor to the diagnosis of STDs.
“In today’s age of connectivity, there are even social media applications to quickly identify others who wish to have sex with unknown partners. We see this as a huge issue,” commented Smith.
Nationally and statewide, Lee said there is also an increase in intravenous drug abuse.
“Within that culture, needle sharing is problematic and can also result in transmission of HIV,” he added.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicates syphilis cases increased by more than 10 percent from 2012 to 2013.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported 39 cases of syphilis diagnosed this year have mostly been concentrated in Monongalia, Berkeley, Cabell and Wood counties.
It is a surprising reality, said Smith.
“I will stand here and tell you that many healthcare practitioners in the year 2015 have never seen a case or made a diagnosis of primary or secondary syphilis.”
Ten years ago, public health diminished the number of syphilis and HIV cases in the state to very minimal. Lee attributed that to aggressive education efforts raising awareness of the diseases.
“I think this combined with beliefs held by many people that there’s a cure for everything and even if I catch something, there’s a medication,” Lee suggested. “I think this has resulted in a bit of a casual attitude.”
Because syphilis can be difficult to detect and symptoms can go away without treatment before resurfacing again weeks later, Lee said it is time for health leaders to resume discussions of sexually transmitted infections and diseases.
Early treatment of syphilis is essential, said Smith.
“After the secondary syphilis, there is typically a latent period that can last for years followed by a tertiary syphilis which is that part that affects the nervous system and can cause problems anywhere from paralysis to dementia,” Smith explained.
In Monongalia County, Smith reminds residents the health department offers free, confidential evaluations and exams and treatment where necessary.