People don’t want to think about. If sexually transmitted disease crosses their minds, it usually is with a confident, “It won’t happen to me.” But Mendy Spohn, Carter, Jefferson, Johnston, Love, Marshall and Stephens County Health Department administrator, says STDs are a real problem. It’s happening to real people. It’s happening to good people. It’s happening right here, right now.
“Sexually transmitted diseases remain a public health issue in our communities. It is important for individuals to know facts and prevention, especially young adults and parents,” Spohn said.
In fact Oklahoma is No. 8 on the Most Diseased States in America List. The list released, last month, used a combination of STD data published by the Center for Disease Control, local county and state health data, and social media surveys, to create a comprehensive look at the state of STDs in the U.S. The top 10 states in order from one to 10 are: Alaska, Louisiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Alabama.
The report indicates STDs reached an all-time high in 2016, according to data released late last year by the CDC. Much of the rise has been attributed to “hook up” apps such as Tindr and Grindr. Spohn agrees apps are adding to the problem.
“The social environment is so different than even 10 years ago. Now we have apps on smart phones that people use to ‘hook up’ or engage in risky behaviors with strangers. Many of the diseases we are seeing don’t have acute symptoms. It is important to get screened and treated for any transmittable infections, not only to stop the spread in the community, but to protect unborn children. Many STDs can cause adverse birth outcomes,” Spohn explains.
Think it really can’t be all that big of a deal? Think again. Local urgent care facilities report seeing between six and eight cases of STDs per month. While the common STD cases seen locally include chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis, Spohn says syphilis is on the rise. Already in 2017 Carter County has four reported cases.
So who are those most at-risk and where are they seeking treatment? Spohn said urgent care type clinics, hospital emergency rooms and the health department see the majority of cases.
Jennifer Bramlett, Mercy Hospital Ardmore Emergency Room Director of Nursing, says because most STD symptoms include or begin with abdominal pressure or pain, it is difficult to determine exactly how many cases come through the doors of the ER.
“Abdominal pain or pressure is the most common symptom in the ER and abdominal pain covers a lot of things,” she said.  
While the hospital conducts “tests” for most STDs, it does not test for syphilis.
“The big part of the ER is immediate care. We test for the other three (chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis) and we recommend they see their doctor or the health department,” Bramlett said.
Ages of patients seeking care for STDs varies, but Bramlett says it covers all generations.
What kinds of questions do those with STDs have?
“They want to know ‘What’s the next step?’ and ‘Will I have it forever?’” Bramlett said.
STDs are reportable in Oklahoma, which means the names and locations of patients will be sent to the health department.
“We do tell patients they will be receiving a call from the state and that they need to notify their partner or partners they have it,” Bramlett said, adding 50 percent of those seeking medical attention at the ER are shocked by the diagnosis.
Laurel McCullouh, Convenient Care Clinic nurse practitioner, says most of the STD patients she sees range in age from 20s to 30s, but even some retirees are getting the shock of their lives. Is there a differences in reactions between male and female patients? McCullouh says most women are caught off-guard because the symptoms mimic a variety of female maladies. The most common? Urinary tract infections.  
What is the best protection? Condoms. Why aren’t people using them?
“Women says it’s awkward to approach the subject with men. Men complain it interferes with sensation,” McCullouh said.
Dean Hill, another clinic nurse practitioner, who sees more of the facility’s male patients with STDs, says most men aren’t surprised. They’re also not embarrassed. He describes the general reaction as “nonchalant.” Hill says he treats and tries to educate.
“I tell them use protection or abstain,” he said, adding he also cautions STDs don’t discriminate. “It doesn’t have anything to do with ‘looking clean,’ or ‘they’re nice.’ I tell them no one is going to protect you but you.”
The question remains why are Oklahomans ignoring STDs? Hill says it’s time for parents to have some serious discussions with their children. If not a frank talk, he suggests parents “turn on the computer and have them read up on the subject.”
McCullouh said while patients seem to know about STDs. The issues appears to fall into the general category of an overall tendency to ignore personal health.
“All we can do is urge patients to protect themselves. Not just some time, every single time. STDs are out there. It has not been eradicated,” she said.
The bottom line?
“Local health departments in partnership with the state staff routinely conduct disease investigations to help prevent the spread of all communicable diseases including STDs,” said Spohn. “Public health nurses are key to the investigation, control and prevention of communicable diseases like syphilis. The role of a public health nurse is vast in responsibility, but they are experts in disease prevention and education.”