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St. Louis no longer first in STD infection rates

By Rachel Lippmann

St. Louis – The city of St. Louis has seen a big drop in the infection rates of two common sexually transmitted diseases.

Between 2007 and 2008, Chlamydia rates dropped about two percent, and gonorrhea rates fell almost 27 percent. That was enough to push St. Louis from the top spot in infection rates for both the diseases, which it had held for several years. There were 1,225 cases of Chlamydia per 100,000 residents, and 174 cases of gonorrhea per 100,000 residents.

St. Louis city and County are both doing a better job of getting people treatment for STD's, said Dr. Bradley Stoner, a professor of anthropology and medicine at Washington University. But access to care remains a problem.

"People with STDs often don't have health insurance, and user fees and other sorts of financial barriers impose impediments to patients," Stoner said.

City health director Pamela Rice Walker attributed the decrease to public-private partnerships, and a new teen health center that opened up last year. But she said young people, especially teens, still lack important information about the diseases.

"They don't know things, like that Chlamydia causes infertility later on, and it's not just a one-time problem that you take a pill for and then you're better," she said. A large majority of cases both in the city and nationwide are in teenagers under the age of 19.

Walker said the city has expanded its testing program to the jails and juvenile justice facilities, and will continue a program that trains teenagers to be educational ambassadors about STDs

Gonorrhea rates in the entire St. Louis metropolitan area also fell between 2007 and 2008, but Chlamydia and syphilis rates were up. Dr. Stoner said increased testing often causes rates to go up as more infections are detected.