The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department released updated data on five sexually transmitted infections within the county this month.
The data is collected from mandated health provider and laboratory reporting up to 2022, according to a press release from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department (SBCPHD), and spans five sexually transmitted infections (STIs): chlamydia, gonorrhea, early syphilis, HIV and Mpox.
Key county trends SBCPHD made note of in the press release were that chlamydia rates are on the rise and more likely to be diagnosed in women under 25 years of age. Gonorrhea was more likely to be diagnosed in men 25-34 years old. Early syphilis experienced a significant increase among women of childbearing age and the burden of disease shifted to North County. Compared to the state, SB County rates were lower across all reported STIs.
“These trends highlight the importance of getting tested, especially pregnant people at their initial prenatal appointment and again for syphilis during their 3rd[[third]] trimester,” Michelle Wehmer, epidemiologist at SBCPHD and author of the STI report, said in the SBCPHD press release.
Chlamydia, an STI caused by chlamydia trachomatis bacteria, can be contracted by anyone, regardless of gender. It is spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex.
There were 1749 cases of chlamydia recorded in 2022. Over 50% of these cases were of people aged 25 and under, and 50% of overall cases came from North County. Two in three cases diagnosed were of women, and 64% of all cases were of people who were multiracial, “other” — not Asian, Latine, Black or white — or otherwise unknown ethnicity.
There were 572 cases of gonorrhea recorded in 2022. Over 40% of these cases were of people aged 25 and under, and North and South County both carried 43% of these cases, respectively. Three in five cases diagnosed were of men, and 47% of these cases were of Latine people.
Though it’s easily cured with antibiotics, chlamydia and gonorrhea are often left untreated because most people with it experience little to no symptoms. This can lead to chronic health complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.
Syphilis is an STI that begins presenting itself with painless sores and can cause serious health problems, including damage to the nervous system, heart and eyes. It can progress through four different stages and is most contagious two to 12 weeks after exposure, wherein painless sores often go unnoticed.
There were 112 cases of early syphilis recorded in 2022, from which 32% were of people aged 25-34 years old and North County carried 63% of the cases. Four in five cases diagnosed were of men, and 57% of all cases were of Latine people. Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer Henning Ansorg and Santa Barbara County Health Care Center Staff Physician Chelsea Dean issued a call to action to county medical providers for increased screening for STIs. Recommendations included testing any adult patient with bacterial STI for HIV as well, annually testing for STIs if there is a history of bacterial STI and doing gonorrhea and chlamydia testing at oral and rectal sites in addition to urine.
“Considering the increasing rates of STIs, we (local STI providers) recommend aggressive and routine screening for all STIs in the general public. We need to promote awareness of STIs whenever possible,” the call to action stated. “In order for us to truly get on top of diagnosis and treating STIs, we must start addressing the stigma that surrounds STIs. It is important to approach testing for and diagnosing STIs with an open-minded, non-judgmental approach.”
Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of STIs. Prevention and early intervention are key to treatment. If you are sexually active, it is advisable to get tested for STIs at least once a year.
At UC Santa Barbara, testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV is available at no cost with the UCSB Student Health Insurance Plan and low cost without it through the student health portal. Both UCSB Student Health Service and SBCPHD emphasize the importance of condom use. Proper condom usage greatly reduces the risk of STI transmission and contraction.
A version of this article appeared on p. 9 of the Oct. 5, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.