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Douglas County Health reports stark decrease in STD testing in 2021

STDs in Douglas County continue to rise, despite access to testing and successful treatments.
Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 10:28 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - For years, the rate of sexually transmitted diseases and infections in Douglas County has far surpassed the national average.

Health officials say the pandemic is exacerbating the problem.

“Chlamydia remains our highest STI that we see, and that has not changed, and you can see that the rates for that have gone up,” says Douglas County Health Director Dr. Lindsay Huse during May’s Board of Public Health meeting.

“Because this is a very in-person, intensive service, the pandemic was really disruptive to our STD activities,” she says. “Right now our goal is really to reestablish those pre-pandemic STI activities including education, outreach, and testing.”

In 2021, Douglas County Health saw just 1,062 patients get tested at their clinics.

“Again it’s because we only opened for about a week in 2021, most of our staff were focused on assisting with COVID vaccinations and other efforts there,” Huse admits.

That number, 1,062, is one-third of the number of patients who got tested in 2020, which was already far below the average compared to previous years.

Clinics at Nebraska Medicine say they, too, are seeing fewer and fewer patients come in for testing.

“The problem with diagnosing STDs is you can’t do a lot of those by telehealth or telephone, you actually have to see people, you have to have tests, maybe treatment, it’s often an injection, and so its got to be something done in person, and that has just been increasingly difficult during the pandemic,” says Dr. Susan Swindells, the founder of UNMC’s HIV clinic.

Both Huse and Swindells say the fear is that there are much more STDs and STIs in the community than are being reported. And if they can get testing back to pre-pandemic levels, the numbers will likely show that.

“Normally, we would patients every few months and we would do routine screening,” says Swindells. “And all of that went out the window.”

In the last two years, Douglas County Health reports indicate they’ve seen an increase in chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and even a slight increase in HIV.

“We’ve known about HIV for about 40 years, we know how it’s transmitted, realistically, we shouldn’t be seeing any new patients in our clinic, and yet every week, we see some. Every single week,” Swindell says.

Swindell says 40% of the patients that come into her clinic are younger, Black community members. Dr. Huse says Black community members are disproportionately impacted by STDs and STIs in Douglas County, too.

A major issue remains to be the stigma surrounding STDs, Swindells says. Once the community can move past that, they can better combat the issues.

Douglas County has brought back regular testing clinics through the health department, you can find updated lists of places and times here.

They will also be establishing an at-home STI testing project, along with increasing awareness and education on how STDs and STIs are transmitted.

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