December 1 Marks World AIDS Day and First Anniversary of Local “Protect Your Parts” Campaign
Since 1988, December 1 has been recognized as World AIDS Day, an opportunity to raise awareness and encourage people to rethink outdated stereotypes, challenge myths about HIV and AIDS, and to create a movement around education and positive action.
“In the 35 years since the epidemic was first recognized, we’ve made many advances in the response to HIV,” said Registered Nurse Andrea Wilson at Falls Community Health, the community outreach worker with the Sioux Falls Health Department, “but there is still much work to do. We are proud to observe this World AIDS Day as we reflect on how partners across the world are working to create a world free of HIV.”
To increase awareness about STD and HIV screening, especially among young adults, the Health Department launched a campaign one year ago called “Protect Your Parts.”
The terms STDs and STIs are often used interchangeably, according to Dr. Jennifer Tinguely, Chief Medical Officer for Falls Community Health (the public health clinic that is part of the City of Sioux Falls Health Department), although there is a difference. “The term ‘STI’ is broader and more encompassing, because some infections are curable and may not cause any symptoms,” she said. “If the infection results in altering the typical function of the body, it is then called a ‘disease.’ However, the important thing is that we talk about it. Certainly, it is a sensitive topic, but it warrants the community’s attention.”
The fact that STDs continue to be a public health issue may indicate traditional methods of communicating about sexual health aren’t reaching every generation, added Wilson. That is why her program developed the “Protect Your Parts” campaign last year. The campaign includes a website, www.protectyourparts.org. The website includes an online quiz about STD and HIV risk, and interactive maps showing both clinical screening sites in eastern South Dakota and condom distribution sites in Sioux Falls.
“Sexually transmitted diseases affect people of all ages, but we see our biggest case numbers in those ages 15 to 24, both in South Dakota and in the nation,” Tinguely said. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that age group accounts for half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections in the U.S. each year, even though it makes up just a quarter of the sexually active population.”
“A number of factors put younger people at risk,” said Wilson, “including not getting screened or having limited access to screenings, concerns about confidentiality, thinking they are not at risk, having multiple partners, and even social media and the Internet (which have made it easier for people to find anonymous sex partners).”
Many young people may not even know they have been infected, because STDs don’t always have immediate symptoms. However, by not getting screened, people are at risk for serious health problems, such as HIV, cervical cancer, or infertility.
Falls Community Health provides primary health care services and is a resource for people in the community looking for more information about STDs and screening. The clinic also offers free rapid HIV and STD testing on Mondays from 3 to 7 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at the downtown location, 521 North Main Avenue, in the Health and Human Services Building. During these times, the clinic is staffed by Wilson, who is a nurse and able to screen and test for HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis.
In Minnehaha County, there were 328 cases of gonorrhea in the Sioux Falls area in 2015, and rates are even higher again this year, with 320 cases during the period of January through October. HIV rates are also rising significantly, with 37 cases identified so far this year, which is a 61 percent increase from the 5-year median of 23 cases year to date. This is the highest rate since 1989.
“We want to increase awareness about STDs among residents, employers, and health care workers to ensure people understand the importance of how and where to get screened, and what they can do to protect themselves,” said Wilson.
Individuals interested in STD testing should follow up with their primary care provider. Those who do not have a primary care provider can access the free rapid HIV and STD clinic at Falls Community Health. Individuals can also meet with a physician to establish care and receive additional testing on a sliding fee scale according to income.