The Central Valley is seeing an unprecedented rise in sexually transmitted diseases and Kings County is no exception.
According to Debbie Grice, deputy health director for nursing and community services at Kings County Health Department, in 2016 there were 800 reported cases of chlamydia, 219 cases of gonorrhea and 16 cases of syphilis.
The year before, there were 596 cases of chlamydia, 172 cases of gonorrhea and 19 cases of primary and secondary syphilis.
The good news is that diseases' rates of growth over the years has been slower in Kings than other areas of the state, especially when it comes to syphilis, Dr. Milton Teske, health officer at the Kings County Health Department, said.
“Kings County has seemed to be a little bit isolated from the epidemic that has hit Fresno and other areas,” he said.
Grice believes the growth may be slower due to the strict monitoring of communicable diseases in the community.
“We have people doing outreach. We communicate with the providers in the community on a pretty regular basis and this is something we have been working on for a number of years,” she said.
"We have staff who will call and get additional information, lab confirmation, that kind of stuff. So we are very actively doing surveillance for these [STDs]," she added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, STDs are at an all-time high across the country.
“We have reached a decisive moment for the nation,” Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said last year in a press release. “STD rates are rising, and many of the country’s systems for preventing STDs have eroded. We must mobilize, rebuild and expand services – or the human and economic burden will continue to grow.”
Syphilis in particular appears to be a significant problem. During 2015, there were 74,702 reported new diagnoses of the disease in the U.S., compared to 44,784 estimated new diagnoses of HIV infection in 2014.
“It really comes down to sexual practices,” Dr. Teske said. “The advice to avoid [diseases] is using condoms regularly and reducing the number of sexual partners. Ideally, you are in a [monogamous] relationship.”
“If someone is actively sexual among multiple people, they really need to be tested and make sure they are not picking [something] up,” he added.
In an even more troubling turn of events, reports have surfaced of children across the state being born with congenital syphilis. During 2015 alone, 487 cases were reported.
Kern and Fresno counties have some of the highest rates. In 2015, Kern County had 28 cases of congenital syphilis, while Fresno County had 40.
“Our message to people in the community is early entry prenatal care," Becky Durrenberger, director of maternal, child, adolescent health, from the Kings County Department of Public Health, said.
Ultimately, early identification of syphilis means the woman and child can be treated sooner, reducing the health risks involved.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet, up to 40 percent of babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborn, or die from the infection as a newborn.
Luckily, Kings County has only seen a handful of cases in the last couple of years, Dr. Teske said.