Miss. officials concerned about increase in STDs

Published 11:38 pm Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Public health officials, concerned about an increase in sexually transmitted diseases in Mississippi, are meeting with school leaders and health care providers in an effort to push for more education about abstinence and condom use.

The latest statistics from the state Department of Health show a significant increase in the year-to-date number of syphilis cases. There were a total of 181 cases by the end of April, compared to 82 cases during the same period last year. The total number of Chlamydia cases was 8,221, compared to 6,026 in 2008.

Cases of HIV and gonorrhea also are up slightly.

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State epidemiologist Dr. Mary Currier said a spike in syphilis cases often leads to an increase in HIV because lesions caused by the disease create a point of entry for the virus.

DeSoto, Hinds, Forrest and Harrison counties account for 60 percent of state’s syphilis morbidity, said Craig Thompson, director of the Department of Health’s STD/HIV office.

“It’s not that we have particularly significant increases in sexually transmitted diseases. We have an overall problem in the cause, which is rampant irresponsible sexual behavior,” Thompson said Tuesday. “All the data shows that. People aren’t paying enough attention to condom use.”

Thompson said the median age of syphilis carriers is the early 20s.

Thompson and Currier said it’s important that school officials be aware of the need for educating students about more than just abstinence, which is what’s taught in most districts. Legislation requiring the state’s public schools to provide comprehensive sex education, including information on birth control, died during the 2009 session.

Thompson said health officials also have begun planning for a statewide provider conference to discuss STDs and raise awareness about the problem.

In the meantime, Currier said the agency’s 38 disease intervention specialists have been working to contact the sex partners of anyone who tests positive for STDs. She said a Health Department mobile clinic travels to high-risk areas to increase screenings.

Thompson said there’s also a push for more community involvement. He said federal funding will be used to provide $1,500 grants to community-based organizations in the four counties with the highest number of STDs to conduct screening and awareness events.