Chlamydia infection rates reached an all-time high in New Mexico, earning it the not-so-distinguished spot as the fifth-most sexually diseased state in the country, according to a recent report.
Backgroundchecks.org, an online database and resource for public records, compiled data from state and county health agencies, the Center for Disease Control, and social media surveys to assign each state an “STD score” based on the gonorrhea and chlamydia rates per 100,000 residents.
New Mexico received a score of 411.14, following Mississippi, North Carolina, Louisiana and Alaska.
The most recent STD Surveillance Report by the New Mexico Department of Health showed that chlamydia infection rates have consistently been higher than the national average.
In 2015, the chlamydia infection rate rose to 603 incidents per 100,000 people.
Rhien Paul, the communications director for the NMDOH, said the department’s infectious disease program “investigates diagnosed cases to prevent further transmission.”
“The New Mexico Department of Health takes the spread and treatment of all sexually transmitted diseases very seriously,” Paul said. “Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease that when properly treated can be easily cured.”
Paul noted that Backgroundcheks.org omitted HIV and syphilis transmission rates, which are much lower in New Mexico.
The Student Health and Counseling Center at the University of New Mexico has increased its efforts in recent years to combat STDs. In 2014, SHAC started to offer free gonorrhea and chlamydia testing.
On average, the SHAC performs 1,700 chlamydia tests annually, and about 7 to 9.3 percent of those tests are positive, while only 1 percent of the same amount of gonorrhea tests come back positive.
These figures do not reflect the student population, however, because students have the ability to seek out different clinics for diagnosis and care.
Also, the law protects a person’s status as a student, preventing any way to get an accurate STD rate for UNM’s population.
James Wilterding, the executive director for SHAC, said the increase in STD rates is not due to a lack of access to testing, as the NMDOH has a public health clinic in every county that offers confidential and free testing.
He attributed the increase to poverty and a lack of information, and said the socioeconomic factors related to health care impact the state.
Barriers to treatment also contribute to the increase in STD rates, which Wilterding described as a lack of health insurance or health care plans with little coverage.
Wilterding inferred that UNM would have a lower STD rate than the rest of the young adult cohort because it is an educated and insured population.
NMDOH also discovered health disparities in their recent report, finding that Hispanic, African-American, American-Indian and LGBT communities are disproportionately affected by STDs.
SHAC collaborates with the LGBTQ and Ethnic Resource Centers to inform students about the importance of safe sex and routine testing.
SHAC reaches out the LGBT community with their transgender health program, which specifically provides primary care to that population, and SHAC health care providers prescribe gay men with Truvada, a pill that prevents HIV transmission and infection.
“Our providers are trained to assign PREP — pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV,” Wilterding said. “And as a part of that training, they are also very skilled at taking sexual history and providing ongoing counseling and care.”
Wilterding and Paul from NMDOH emphasized the importance of taking proactive measures to prevent transmission and infection.
“NMDOH encourages everyone to do their part to reduce the spread of STDs through abstinence, mutual monogamy and, when necessary, the use of condoms,” Paul said. “We also encourage residents to know their status and to get tested when necessary.”
Sara Quintana, a student at UNM, said she was surprised about New Mexico’s rank, but expected the high rates. While Quintana praised SHAC’s efforts, she questioned how many people seek out information.
“Yes, we have pamphlets and websites that discuss certain diseases and how people might get into contact with them,” she said. “But how many people go searching for this?”
Angel Pavia also attends UNM and believes SHAC has been successful with its outreach efforts. He said he “fully supports their efforts.”
Pavia was not surprised by the high ranking, blaming it on what he believes is an increasingly lax attitude regarding condom usage.
“People these days don’t even care to use condoms and never consider the end risks of pregnancy or STDs,” he said. “They most likely assume the girl is on birth control and free of STDs when the situation arises, when in reality they aren’t.”
Pavia thinks the topic should be readdressed to remind people about the importance of condoms.
The University offers free condoms in baskets located at SHAC, Johnson Gym and the LGBT, Women's and Ethnic resource centers.
Andres Del Aguila is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLobo.