|March 6, 2014
STD numbers continue to climb on the Rez
By B.L. Azure
ST. IGNATIUS — There are certain kinds of things a person doesn’t want to be king or queen of the hill on, near the top of the list — one hopes —should be getting then spreading sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Unfortunately, there seems to be a number of hill climbers on the Flathead Indian Reservation and Lake County who don’t seem to care about what they bring to the hill. What they are bringing and planting on the hill are STDs, in particular gonorrhea and chlamydia.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services recently released its 2013 STD report and it has caused a great deal of concern at the CSKT Tribal Health and Human Services Community Health Division.
“It’s quite scary,” said THHS Community Health Division manager Tammy Matt about the report and the latest statistics that haven’t abated since the last quarterly report. Matt speculated that the backdrop to some of the reported cases is in all likelihood the resurgence of the methamphetamine use not only on the reservation and Lake County but also, throughout state and region. “It’s has not been a good year for us.”
In 2013, there were 141 cases of chlamydia reported; 45 cases of gonorrhea; 18 cases of co-infections of chlamydia and gonorrhea; and, one case of syphilis on the reservation and county.
American Indians accounted for 71.1 percent of the reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases; Caucasians accounted for 19.53 percent; Blacks accounted for 2.3 percent; and, 7.1 percent were of unknown race.
Females comprised 75.1 percent of reported STD cases, and males 24.9 percent.
The median age of those with reported STDs is 22.6 years, with the 14-24 years of age range accounting for 69.7 percent of the reported cases.
Matt and the Community Health Division nurses are concerned about the latest statistics and are working to chisel down the numbers.
“We do our very best to track down, find these people,” Matt said. “When we find them we test them, treat them and interview them.”
Matt said when they do have a successful location and interview with an infected person, that person usually informs them of the other or others they’ve had sex with and that leads to another track down.
“We see trends, we see repeat cases,” Matt said. “We see the same circle of people all the time. The epicenter of the reported cases is the Ronan and Pablo area. Matt said she continues to scratch her head wondering what more can be done to put an end to the scourge of STDs among the tribal community.
She said if tribal folks are uncomfortable coming to Tribal Health they have to option of going to the Lake County Public Health Department. “We have a good working relationship with Lake County Public Health, so if people don’t comfortable coming to Tribal Health they can go to Lake County,” Matt said. “The people at Lake County have been good to work with. I hope (tribal) people will access them and that they get a good positive response.”
Chlamydia is a common STD that can infect both men and women. It can cause serious, permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system, making it difficult or impossible for her to get pregnant later on. Chlamydia can also cause a potentially fatal ectopic pregnancy, a pregnancy that occurs outside the womb.
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that can infect both men and women. It can cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat. It is a very common infection, especially among young people ages 15-24 years.
“The treatment is very easy,” Matt said, adding that it takes one shot for gonorrhea and two pills for chlamydia.
However looming in the shadows, according the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention is the progressively developed resistance to the antibiotic drugs prescribed to treat gonorrhea.
“The development of antibiotic resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a growing public health concern,” the CDC states in its annual report. “In particular because the United States gonorrhea control strategy relies on effective antibiotic therapy.”
Matt said prevention is still the best therapy.
For more information, contact Tammy Matt, at 745-3525.