April is recognized as Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness Month and brings attention to the nearly 20 million new STD cases that occur in the United States each year.
While STDs affect all racial and ethnic groups, American Indian and Alaska Native populations bear a disproportionate burden. The IHS National STD Program and the IHS Division of Epidemiology and Disease Prevention within the Office of Public Health Support recently released the Indian Health Surveillance Report — Sexually Transmitted Diseases 2015 . The report presents statistics and trends for STDs among American Indians and Alaska Natives in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
This surveillance report, summarizing 2011–2015 national and IHS Area-level data and trends for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary and secondary syphilis, serves as a valued resource for those working in Indian Country and others concerned with the public health implications of STDs for American Indians and Alaska Native populations.
The report shows the continuing trend of a nationwide increase in STDs and highlights national-level disparities indicating that American Indians and Alaska Natives had the second highest rates for chlamydia and gonorrhea and the fourth highest rates for syphilis among all racial and ethnic groups in 2015. Regional differences for each of the conditions were observed, with gonorrhea rates increasing nationally among American Indians and Alaska Natives. The report also highlights the higher STD burden among American Indians and Alaska Native youth and among American Indians and Alaska Native women, particularly women of reproductive age (15-44 years of age).
People who have an STD may be at an increased risk of getting HIV . The president’s recently announced initiative, Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America , reinforces the imperative to work in partnership with various stakeholders to address screening of individuals at risk of HIV, to improve access to treatment for those with HIV, and to also strive for early recognition of risk factors for acquiring HIV, such as previous or recurrent STDs, to guide HIV prevention efforts.
The IHS National STD Program is committed to raising awareness of STDs as a high-priority health issue among American Indians and Alaska Natives and to supporting partnerships, collaborations, policies, and education that help reduce the impact of STDs in Indian Country. By visiting the IHS National STD program website , you can find an STD testing site near you. When you visit your healthcare provider, you should discuss sex as it relates to your health. Your provider calls this “taking a sexual history” and it helps them to understand what STD tests you may need. You can ask them questions, too! For example, you may want to know how to protect yourself from getting an STD, which STD tests you will be getting, or how often to get tested.
Lastly, the IHS National STD Program has recently launched a national workgroup on STDs. This new workgroup seeks to connect public health practitioners and clinical providers and provide a forum for discussing various perspectives regarding STDs in Indian Country. If you are a provider or public health practitioner working with American Indian and Alaska Native communities and are interested in joining the workgroup, please e-mail the National IHS STD Program lead Dr. Andria Apostolou at Andria.Apostolou@ihs.gov. To receive messages about STD prevention activities as well as conferences, funding opportunities, and trainings that are relevant to individuals practicing in Indian Country, please join the IHS National STD Program Listserv .