Drastic Rise in STD Rates in Mobile County

Published: 17th July 2009
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In this day and age, the average middle-class person is well-aware of sexually transmitted diseases; how can they not be, what with commercials and advertisements of drugs used to help minimize the effects of certain sexually transmitted diseases being shown day and night. Personally, I have seen these commercials enough that I could tell you verbatim what the side effects of using these drugs are. In addition, young middle-class adults are often taught in high-school and/or college about the benefits of safe sex with condoms. However, what happens when a county's population includes many more people who live below the poverty line? What happens when sex education is lacking?

In 2006, Mobile County in Alabama became an example of this scenario. In a county of just over 400,000, there were 4,629 reports of new episodes of syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea. According to both federal and statewide statistics on sexually transmitted diseases, this number of new cases can also be stated as 1 out of every 87 people in Mobile County. What seems more alarming is the fact that this rate is two times more than the rate in Washington, D.C. and three times more than the rate in New York City. Despite these rates, health officials have stated that these levels have not reached epidemic proportions, so there is no need to panic. Paul Piepho, a program manager of disease intervention in Mobile County states, "If you don't do this for a living or you're not an OB specialist or you're not an infectious disease specialist, and you look at the numbers, you go, 'Oh my God.' We're not at that point."

Specifically, the number of cases of chlamydia has gone from just over 500 cases reported in 1994 to over 22,500 cases reported in 2006. Across the state, the number of cases of syphilis went from 583 to 931 cases in just one year. Many experts in the health industry have pointed to a lack of sex education as a main reason for these skyrocketing rates. As a rule, Alabama schools believe strongly in a curriculum of sex education based solely on abstinence. Thus, students in public schools are taught that the only way to protect oneself against HIV, AIDS, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases is through abstinence. They are not taught how to use condoms. There is no part of the curriculum that focuses on having safe sex with condoms as an alternative for those who are already having sexual relations. Those in the highest-risk group, young adults between the ages of 15 to 29 "think they're invincible or they have no knowledge or they don't care or 'It's something that's going to happen to that person, but not to me,'" according to Monica Knight, the director of the bureau of disease control in Mobile County.

State officials also strongly believe that those counties with a large percentage of the population living below the poverty level have the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases. As an example, Baldwin County that has only 10 percent of its population claiming poverty status has one of Alabama's lowest sexually transmitted disease rates. On the flip side, Hale County that has almost a quarter of its population living in poverty had the highest sexually transmitted disease rates. These officials also believe that rates have increased overall due to testing measures of sexually transmitted diseases becoming more advanced. According to Victor Creagh the disease intervention manager in Baldwin County, "Before about two or three years ago, we were not even able to do chlamydia testing on males."


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