STDs are on the rise in mid-Missouri, according to CDC

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COLUMBIA - 2.3 million cases of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia that were diagnosed in 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported this national record Tuesday. 

The report said these numbers have been on a steady, but steep rise over the past 5 years. Syphilis is up 76 percent and gonorrhea 67 percent. Chlamydia remains the mosts common STD, with 1.7 million cases nationwide last year.

Cale Mitchell, executive director at Spectrum Health Care, said the trend is evident in Missouri and he's not surprised by the numbers.

"We see that locally. We're seeing the same things here in Columbia, across mid-Missouri, that we're seeing nationally," Mitchell said.

He said one reason why the numbers continue to rise is because many people go untested, in part because of the stigma.

"For so long we have demonized sexual behavior, which is part of the human experience. So there is the slut-shaming, the "you're doing something wrong" and, on top of all of that, you have transmitted a sexually transmitted infection or sexually transmitted disease and then you have to pair that with the societal stigma and shame that goes along with that," Mitchell said.

Kristin Metcalf-Wilson of Planned Parenthood said conservative approaches to sex education is also a factor.

"The lack of high-quality, comprehensive sex ed has contributed to a troubling increase in STI rates in Missouri," she said.

Caroline Emmitt, a senior in the social work program at the University of Missouri, is an advocate for sexual health and has seen the CDC report.

"These spikes are crazy," she said.

Emmitt spends a lot of her time doing research within the sexual health world and how it relates to social justice issues. She said it's a shame more people don't use the number of resources available in Columbia.

"Just like if you had, you know, like strep throat, you'd go to the doctor, you'd get antibiotics, you'd get it treated. If you had a broken arm, you'd get a cast, you know what I mean. Like, taking care of your health is important and your sexual health and reproductive health is just another part of it," she said.

Emmitt usually gets tested on MU's campus, or at her women's yearly exam.

"Sexual health should be maintained, especially for women. Super common bacterial infections can cause life-long impacts," she said.

Mitchell said, in many cases, early intervention could cure the infection or manage it so it is a minor inconvenience. 

"Any time these reports come out, we shouldn't take an alarmist view. Data is data and we need to treat it as such and data deserves responses. So, the response is to mobilize and educate and provide resources," Mitchell said.

He said it's important to encourage people to have conversations with their partners to make sure everyone involved stays safe.

"It's never just one person. We can treat the one person, but it came from someplace. We need to find where that is, treat that person and work our way out so we can make sure we are covering the most people and really eliminating the infection from the population," Mitchell said.

He said the numbers should be a wake up call.

"There are options and there are resources and, with minimal effort, and really just one conversation with an agency like us, you could walk away with a lot of information and a plan on how to keep yourself safe," Mitchell said.

Metcalf-Wilson said there's one top priority.

"The most important thing we can remind people in our area is to get yourself tested," she said.

Resources for STD testing: 

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