Overcoming disease with education

CDC designates April as STD awareness month

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Officials from the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association contend there is a key ingredient in limiting the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Education.

Cole White, VNA operations director, said in addition to handing out condoms and offering free clinics, spreading information is the best way to combat STDs.

"What it boils down to is education," White said. "The VNA has one-on-one meetings with a physician and a client, and there's literature we can hand out, so people can take it back to their partners, as well."

The Center for Disease Control has designated April as STD Awareness Month. Residents can be tested at the VNA.

"Sexually transmitted infections can be undetected," White said. "That's why it's so important to be screened - to get tested.

"Having these screenings is an integral part of public health care. We lose money when we do it, but we'll continue to provide these services."

And although the VNA will not host a free clinic this month, officials said education always is available.

The VNA hosts free STD screening clinics more than eight times a year, White said. The organization is planning on hosting another clinic in May.

White said STDs left untreated could result in more health problems in the future.

"It's not just a rash - it's damage to internal organs, brain damage, joints," he said. "So many of these could be avoided just by getting tested, and protecting yourself."

Gisela Garrison, VNA community health center director, said the VNA has worked in partnership with the Moffat County Work and Life Skills program to educate teens about STDs and prevention.

"Data has shown education is the best way to encourage healthy lifestyles, and especially among the youngsters," Garrison said. "We're committed to preventing high school students from acquiring a sexually transmitted infection."

A trend the VNA has seen has in recent years is an increase in gonorrhea and Chlamydia.

According to the Yampa Valley Partners 2009-2010 Community Indicators Project, Chlamydia rose from 30 reported cases in 2006 to 42 cases in 2007.

Reported cases of gonorrhea rose from one in 2006 to five in 2007. There were no reported cases of syphilis, according to the report.

White said there isn't a good explanation for the increase in numbers.

"During the last three years, and especially from 2006 to 2007, we've seen a significant jump in the numbers of both Chlamydia and gonorrhea," he said. "There has been a host of theories - more people coming into the area, and changing attitudes towards unprotected sex."

Another troubling trend has been the number of repeat clients, White said.

"Sometimes, we'll see the same person come in time and time again with the same infection," White said.

Because of the repeat clients, getting information out is critical, Garrison said.

"If we can educate them so they start practicing safe sex, we'll be able to keep them from coming in," she said. "We try to get clients to bring back some of the education, so if they have a partner who keeps infecting them, they'll be able to share that information."

The VNA also offers information and immunization for certain strains of the Human Papillomavirus that can cause cervical cancer.

White said all screenings are confidential, and some have same-day results.

"We've been doing screenings for adults who qualified throughout the last year," White said. "It's simple, and with some tests, you'll know before you leave."

White said the clinics have grown in popularity since first starting.

"Whenever we have a free clinic, we're usually at capacity," White said. "We try to see as many people as one physician can see. Last year, we saw about 130 and 180 people come to the free clinics."

White said the screenings are completely anonymous, and the physician travels from Grand Junction to add to the privacy.

"People come in anonymously, and are usually pulled in quickly to the back," White said. "It's very confidential, very discreet, and it's free.

"And lots and lots of free condoms. Last year, I think we gave out more than 12,000 free condoms."

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