The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the Baton Rouge area puts the disease at the forefront of public health discussions, but other sexually transmitted diseases also have reached high rates in recent years across the capital region and the state.
It’s a problem that state and local health officials are trying to combat through education about prevention and by encouraging people who are at risk to be tested.
In Baton Rouge and the surrounding parishes, 1,187 people were diagnosed with gonorrhea in 2014, a 27 percent increase over the previous year, according to data compiled by the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals. The 3,711 people diagnosed in the region with chlamydia in 2014 was up 5 percent from 2013.
Going back a decade, the Baton Rouge area has been experiencing increases in chlamydia rates, while gonorrhea case rates have dropped over time.
Still, Louisiana ranked first in the nation in 2013 for gonorrhea case rates, with more than 8,500 total cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance. The report uses both the number of cases and the population size to determine rankings, which are based on the number of people diagnosed per 100,000 population.
That year, the state also ranked second nationally for chlamydia case rates, with close to 29,000 total cases, and third for primary and secondary syphilis case rates, with more than 400 cases.
The underlying problems come back to a lack of education and a lack of medical care options, said DeAnn Gruber, STD/HIV program director for DHH.
“We need to always continue to emphasize the importance of education and getting tested and getting into care,” Gruber said.
Andy Allen, who works for the Mayor’s Healthy City Initiative, said STDs are no longer just a problem in north Baton Rouge among the city’s urban population. But he said it can be difficult to tailor prevention messages that will be accepted in each of the city’s neighborhoods.
“People think, ‘This isn’t my problem,’ ” he said. “Part of prevention is making people aware that this is your problem; this is your neighborhood.”
More women suffer from chlamydia than men, Gruber said. In 2014, 69 percent of cases in the Baton Rouge area were from women, while 31 percent of cases were from men.
Gruber said women undergo testing for STDs more routinely, as they go to doctors for reproductive health services. She said it can be a challenge to persuade them to bring their partners to get tested as well.
Gonorrhea rates are more evenly distributed between men and women, with 51 percent of 2014 cases in Baton Rouge coming from women and 49 percent of cases from men. Gruber said gonorrhea also presents symptoms that chlamydia does not, which could lead more men to get checked.
Most people with chlamydia show no symptoms, according to the CDC. Symptoms for both women and men could include abnormal discharge and burning sensations while urinating.
Symptoms for gonorrhea more commonly present themselves in men than in women. For men, the symptoms include a burning sensation while urinating, off-color discharge and painful or swollen testicles.
If women do have gonorrhea symptoms, they can include pain or burning while urinating, increased discharge and vaginal bleeding in between periods.
Both chlamydia and gonorrhea are curable with proper treatment.
Gruber and Olivia Watkins Hwang, DHH spokeswoman, both said keeping people plugged into primary care is one of the most important aspects of prevention. People who regularly visit health professionals are more likely to get tested and receive treatment.
Though STD rates are high, Gruber said, Baton Rouge has fared better than some other areas.
“In Baton Rouge, it’s an area that most recently we’re seeing some uptick with gonorrhea and chlamydia, but in some cases, we’re actually seeing a decline compared to other regions in the state,” she said.