Health officials work combat STD crisis in Kern County

    A Kern County Public Health poster shows startling statistics about the state of sexually transmitted diseases in Kern County. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

    According to the Centers for Disease Control, California is currently ranked No. 1 for having the most cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and congenital syphilis.

    The Kern County Health Department said that sexually transmitted diseases are a national problem right now, and in Kern County it is a crisis.

    Health officials said they have been working on this issue all year, so they hope to see an improvement in numbers for 2016. The work is also continuous, so with the new year right around the corner they hope to take big steps towards decreasing STDs.

    According to Kern County Health in 2015:

    • Chlamydia: Kern is ranked second worst in California and rates are 42 percent higher than state average.
    • Gonorrhea: Kern is ranked seventh worst in California and rates are 26 percent higher than state average.
    • Primary and secondary Syphilis: Kern is ranked second worst in the California and rates are 46 percent higher than state average.
    • Congenital Syphilis: Kern is ranked second worst in the California and rates are 555 percent higher than state average.

    Health officials said people ages 15 to 24 are the most impacted.

    In 2015, Kern health officials reported 692 chlamydia cases per 100,000 people and 175 gonorrhea cases per 100,000 people.

    Michelle Corson, spokesperson for Kern County Public Health, said that the cases for syphilis have been the most alarming. Health officials said 28 cases were reported last year.

    "Syphilis is one of those STDs that when a woman has it and she's pregnant she can pass it to her baby, and in Kern County last year six babies died because they had congenital syphilis," Corson said.

    Health officials said it is startling that it increased that much, and said it is completely treatable.

    According to Corson, so far this year one baby has died because of congenital syphilis, but the official number have not come in for this year. Corson said this is an improvement from 2016, but one is still too many.

    "We've had approximately the same amount of cases, which is 28 cases, but once we find out that someone who is pregnant has syphilis, we have aggressive treatment methods, we're making home calls, we're going to find these woman and get them treated so then they are not having a baby with congenital syphilis.

    Health officials said to decrease the numbers they are pushing a campaign called "Know Your Risk." Corson said it is an awareness educational movement to address these high rates.

    Corson said the campaign will be done in three phases. They are currently in the first phase, which is about sounding the alarm, creating awareness and getting out the facts.

    To do this health officials said they are going around and giving presentations to community leaders, school officials, faith based organizations, community groups and parents. Corson said the health department hopes these groups will work with them and come up with strategies to combat the issue.

    "A lot of people at first, they seem shocked, you know the various groups we talk to," Corson said. "Our own Kern County Board of Supervisors has been extremely supportive, we've spoken to groups at the superintendents of schools, they have offered resources all year long and continue to offer us resources."

    The second phase will be about collaborating with other groups. Corson said it is going to take a lot of teamwork to change the statistics.

    "This is their health, this is their future, so we're saying we've got a health problem and we want to work with different groups to try to address this health problem," Corson said.

    As far as what is causing it, health officials said that is the big questions.

    "Of course we're all asking ourselves why this is happening, what can we do to address it, and we're the first to say we don't know," Corson said.

    Corson said the CDC has pointed to some possibilities for the increase, such as social media, dating apps and access to health care.

    "We want to encourage testing and treatment," Corson said.

    Corson calls the third phase the action phase. She said health officials are not sure what those actions are yet, but it will be based on different strategies and will continue to evolve.

    Kern health officials said they are looking for ways to continuously partner with different groups and are hopeful, but they want to see more conversations being started about STDs.

    "We need to talk about it because this is the health of our young people, it is that simple," Corson said. "If we don't talk about it and if we don't talk about it with out young people their going to find the information somewhere else, they're going to talk to their friends, their going to go online and quite often they might get information, so if we don't talk about this, if we don't address it and give them the facts and the tools to deal with it, this is not going to get any better, it's only going to get worse," she said.

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