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SD sexually transmitted disease rates up

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PIERRE (AP) — Figures for the first four months of this year show that rates of some sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in South Dakota.

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State Epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger said syphilis rates haven't been this high since the 1970s. HIV rates are reaching levels not seen since the 1980s.

HIV rates are up 129 percent through April this year compared to the 5-year median.

South Dakota typically has high rates of chlamydia and the rate is 18 percent higher so far this year than the 5-year median. About 168 of every 100,000 South Dakotans have chlamydia.

Syphilis rates are up more than one thousand percent so far this year compared to the 5-year median. There are 43 cases of syphilis in the state so far this year. There were 49 cases for all of 2013.

Syphilis affects 5.3 out of every 100,000 nationally and 5.2 out of every 100,000 in South Dakota.

Kightlinger said most of the past syphilis infections came from outside South Dakota.

"Now it's homegrown syphilis in the state," he said.

Physicians and other health care providers are hoping to quash the trend. Physicians, medical students and residents gathered in Sioux Falls Wednesday for a presentation on "Syphilis 2014: The Great Imitator Returns."

Dr. Donna Sweet is a professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita and spoke at the Sioux Falls event. She said that syphilis rates across the nation have doubled since 2000.

She said the infection is called the "great imitator" because its symptoms can be confused with other STDs or other problems affecting the heart, eyes and neurological system.

She said the increase in syphilis cases is related to the increase in HIV cases in the state, because people with HIV are more susceptible to syphilis.

"You're going to see more of all the sexually transmitted diseases," Sweet said. "They're all co-travelers."

Sweet attributes the rise in STD rates to travel, drug use and misperceptions that oral sex is harmless or STDs are only found in big cities.

Allie Luoma, a nurse and nurse coordinator for a family planning clinic on the South Dakota State University campus, has seen an increase in STDs among college students and patients from the community.

"Even if it's not happening to you, it might be happening to someone close to you," Luoma said.

She and the wellness coordinator at SDSU are seeking a grant to bring in speakers for a "sex ed boot camp."

Her office puts out information on STD rates and symptoms, encouraging students to get tested. She said students can access free condoms on campus.

The President of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse and the Alpha Center in Sioux Falls, Leslee Unruh, said her program educates young people about the risks of sexual activity.

"We don't feel that latex is the protector," Unruh said in reference to condoms.

She said kids have been learning about condoms for years, and still the STD rates rise. She blames the prevalence of STDs on a social "hook-up culture" in which it's socially acceptable for people to have casual sexual encounters.

"It's pretty scary," Unruh said. "If you have sex with someone, you're putting yourself at risk."

Kightlinger said once syphilis is under control, the state can keep it that way. Disease intervention specialists and other professionals across the state will continue to screen for STDs and track down the sexual partners of people who have been infected.

South Dakota's rising infectious disease rates

Here's a breakdown of some of the most substantial increases in infections diseases from the South Dakota Health and Disease Summary through April 2014.

SYPHILIS

There have 43 cases of this sexually transmitted infection in the first four months of this year, most of which are found in the central portion of the state. The 25-39 age bracket is primarily affected, with 15-24-year-olds a close second. The rate is up more than 1,000 percent compared to the 5-year median.

SHIGELLA

The rate of increase for this disease which typically affects children is also up more than 1,000 percent compared to the 5-year median. State Epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger said outbreaks of this illness come in waves every five to six years. It causes diarrhea, mostly affects children under 14 and is spread by those who may not wash their hands or have good toilet hygiene. There are 263 cases through April this year. Officials logged 190 cases for all of 2013.

WHOOPING COUGH

Pertussis, which is also called Whooping Cough because it causes violent coughing, is on the rise nationally. Incidences have increased 156 percent so far this year compared to the 5-year median. Kightlinger said the 23 cases so far this year in South Dakota this year are too many for a preventable disease. There are vaccines available for pertussis. Students who don't attend school aren't held to the vaccine requirement, Kightlinger said, and as children get older the vaccine can lose effectiveness.

CHLAMYDIA

Kightlinger said Chlamydia infections have been an ongoing problem for the state. Chlamydia infections have the highest rate in the state's April report, with a total of 1,388 cases. Two thirds of those infections are among 15-24-year-olds. The figures are up 18 percent compared to the 5-year median.

HIV/AIDS

Infection rates of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the later stage of the illness, AIDS, are up 129 percent from the 5-year median. The initial figures are relatively small, which inflates the percentage. There are 16 cases so far this year. Historically, the cases of HIV in the state have been concentrated in Minnehaha and Pennington Counties.

GONORRHEA

Gonorrhea rates are up 30 percent compared to the 5-year median. The sexually transmitted infection currently affects 30 of every 100,000 South Dakotan.

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