Boone County is seeing a rise in the number of reported cases of a fairly common sexually transmitted disease – Chlamydia. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Boone County had 1000 reported cases in 2015 alone.
And this rise in infections has some experts asking why.
“That's a million dollar question, isn't it?” Boone County Epidemiologist Sarah Rainey said.
According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the number of Chlamydia cases in Boone County has more than doubled from 2000 to 2014, and the rates of infection in Boone County are higher than that of the St. Louis metro area, the Kansas City metro area, the Missouri average and the national average.
Rainey said it’s tough to pinpoint the exact reasons why the numbers are going up, but there are a few known factors that play a role. She said people in Boone County could be getting tested at higher rates, so the number of reported Chlamydia cases could be what’s really on the rise.
“We're pretty blessed in that we do have pretty good access to sexually transmitted disease testing,” Rainey said.
The access to testing is especially important because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it could take weeks from the point of infection for people with Chlamydia to show symptoms.
Dustin Hampton is a Health Educator with Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services. He said the demographic of Boone County could also contribute to higher rates of reported Chlamydia cases.
“As you look at the greatest rates of STD's, especially gonorrhea and Chlamydia, you're going to see those in individuals between ages 18-25,” Hampton said. “Which is a large portion of our population.”
Rain of Central Missouri is an organization that specializes in assisting people living with STDs and HIV/AIDS in the Mid-Missouri region. Cale Mitchell, the executive director, said the increase in Chlamydia rates could also have to do with how easy it is to catch the disease.
“You can transfer it with just a little bit of body fluid on the finger,” Mitchell said. “So, if you put that in the terms of unprotected sexual intercourse, even prior to using a barrier method it is possible to transmit.”
Mitchell said Rain tested 5,000 people last year and the numbers are growing. He adds that the organization gets money for testing through grants, fundraising and the CDC. Government grants have to be used in a specific way.
Ryan Hobart, communications director for the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services, said CDC money can only be used to test men with same sex partners and women in certain age groups.
“Missouri’s STD testing program is funded through a CDC grant that contains specific grant objectives determined by the CDC,” Hobart said in an email. “Testing conducted by Missouri’s STD testing program is expected to focus on individuals most at-risk for infection according to CDC testing guidelines. Sites that participate in the Missouri’s STD testing program must follow specific screening and testing criteria to ensure prioritization of limited resources to those individuals most at risk.”
Mitchell said Chlamydia could be stopped, but more funding is needed for testing so affected people can get treatment.
“I will never recommend throwing money at a problem, but in this case, we know that screening and education and providing resources helps eliminate the infections,” Mitchell said. “It's not just something we're trying out. We know what works.”
He added the rise of Chlamydia is a symptom of a larger problem.
“Then you have to look at the bigger picture that it's an indicator of risk behavior,” Mitchell said. “When does your Chlamydia rate start overlapping other infectious disease rates?”
Hampton said the best way to stay safe and prevent the spread of diseases is to use protection and get tested often. There are a variety of testing locations and organizations in Mid-Missouri.