By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Earlier this year, Milwaukee was struck with a sudden spike of HIV and syphilis cases. As the outbreak spread across the city, sexually active individuals were encouraged to get tested. Although the hype surrounding the situation has since died down, the Milwaukee Health Department has made a conscious effort to encourage testing and heighten awareness.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, back in March, 125 people had been diagnosed with HIV, syphilis or in some cases both. Other STDs include chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpes.
Although there’s a lot of fear and misconceptions surrounding STDs, they’re a lot more common than one might think, luckily so is treatment.
Dave Wenton, the executive director of the Holton Street Clinic, said that sometimes an individual may not show any symptoms because the infection is in their throat or rectal region. As such, clinics like the Holton Street Clinic offer to test the oral, genital and rectal regions.
The most common test is the urine sample, Wenton explained. Adding that while routine testing is a good habit, it varies per individual. Holton Street Clinic charges a $40 cash fee, which includes all three tests, and a treatment charge of $10.
“I do encourage full comprehensive testing,” he said.
While Wenton can’t attribute the sudden rise of STDs to anything specific, he does believe current trends play a role. Part of it is more technology he explained. In recent years, dating apps like Tinder and Grinder have become more common. These apps can lead to more anonymous hookups, but the number of cases has been rising for a while he added.
In addition to getting regular tests, Wenton said condoms help reduce the risk and they should be used even during oral sex. He also said, having an open conversation with one’s partner before entering sexual relations can decrease the chances of passing something on. It also helps to make routine testing part of the culture.
In response to the outbreak and for general information, advertisements on billboards and buses featuring testing clinics have become more common throughout the city. And some clinics are making a conscious effort to eradicate the term sexually transmitted disease (STD) in favor of sexually transmitted infection (STI) because infection sounds more treatable.
Meghan Benson, the Director of Community Education for Planned Parenthood Wisconsin said education can help decrease the number of cases.
“STIs have been on the rise across the country,” she said. “One reason is lack of access to health services.”
An STD can be passed on through bodily fluids like blood, semen and saliva. It can also spread through contact with the infected area. And while some people learn this in school, it’s important to stay educated on symptoms, treatment options and testing clinics.
“I think it’s important people find out how common they are,” Benson said.
People have a lot of fear Benson explained when it comes to the infection and the tests themselves. The tests are “quick, easy and relatively painless,” she added, and treatment is simple.
Planned Parenthood doesn’t turn anybody away. According to Benson, Planned Parenthood takes private insurance, Medicaid and has Title X aid for those who need it.
It’s never too early get tested for an STD. And it’s never too late to approach the topic with a partner. STD testing can seem scary, but it doesn’t have to be.