Sexually transmitted diseases in South Dakota are on the rise this year compared to the median number of cases from 2008-2012.
According to provisional data collected by the South Dakota Department of Health, chlamydia is up 25 percent from the five-year median, gonorrhea is up 76 percent, HIV is up 22 percent and syphilis is up 1,050 percent.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections and spread through sexual contact between an infected individual and another individual. STDs can also go by the term sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Melissa Shefl, a physician’s assistant at the Sanford Health Vermillion Clinic said some signs that an individual may be infected by an STD is penile or vaginal discharge, pain during urination, genital warts or sores.
Many STDs, she said, can remain undetected with little or no symptoms.
“Sometimes you’ll never know. It’s simply found by screening and that’s the scary part,” Shefl said.
Some of the most dangerous STDs such as HIV have almost no symptoms aside from a slight cough, which many people can mistake for the common cold, she said.
The World Health Organization estimates 35.5 million people in the world live with HIV.
HIV can progressively turn into Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, and AIDS causes major damage to the body’s immune system, which is terminal.
Joan Beach, a registered nurse at Family Planning of Vermillion, said while STDs can affect anybody they usually affect younger people in the community including college students at the University of South Dakota.
“The majority of the people we see are 15 to 24 year olds, and that is your student as far as high school student to a college student,” Beach said.
Recently, a student at South Dakota State University was arrested for intentionally spreading HIV to unsuspecting sex partners, reported the Argus Leader.
Patrol Officer Jonathon Warner from the Vermillion Police Department said intentionally spreading STDs such as HIV is a serious crime.
“If you have HIV and you are having sexual relations, you are required to tell the other person. If you do not, it is a Class 3 felony,” Warner said.
According to South Dakota codified laws, criminal exposure to HIV/AIDS is punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment and fine of up to $30,000. Intentional exposure to another STD besides HIV is a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $500.
Shefl said while there is no information regarding how many of South Dakota’s STD cases come from college campuses such as USD, she believes college towns do contribute to the problem.
First-year John Wetherington said he does not think STDs are a major problem at USD.
“I’m sure there’s some cases, but we’re pretty safe here,” he said.
Junior Reese Lewon agreed with Wetherington.
“I don’t think it’s too bad of a problem,” he said. “It is a risk that people should be aware of.”
In order to spread awareness about STDs to the general community including USD, Planned Parenthood conducts a number of public awareness campaigns throughout the year, including going to residence halls to speak about safe sex.
“I’ve went to a couple of halls and sororities already this year to talk about STDs, and we’ve had good turnouts,” Beach said.
While Beach does public awareness campaigns at USD, she said she is unable to go to talk with the high school students in Vermillion for unknown reasons.
“I can’t get into the high school,” she said. “I’ve sent information to the counselors but I’ve never gotten anything back.”
Curt Cameron, the principal of Vermillion High School, said the high school conducts its own public awareness campaign for their students.
“We do a health fair every spring, and the kids learn how to keep themselves safe and that includes the use of contraceptives. We also have health classes and we’ve had medical professionals come talk to the students,” Cameron said.
To prevent the spread of STDs, both the Sanford Health Clinic and Planned Parenthood recommend a variety of different techniques for young adults to use, including abstaining from sexual relations, getting tested regularly if sexually active, wearing a condom during sex and having a minimal amount of sex partners.
“My advice is to respect your body, because if you don’t respect your body, no one else is going to respect your body. Also, remember that anyone can get an STD, not just promiscuous people,” Shefl said.