Free STI tests available due to increased number of cases

MARSHALL -- To reduce the number of chlamydia cases in southwest Minnesota, free chlamydia tests will be provided Tuesday in Marshall as part of Minnesota Testing Day for Chlamydia. Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council (SMOC) Family Plannin...

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MARSHALL - To reduce the number of chlamydia cases in southwest Minnesota, free chlamydia tests will be provided Tuesday in Marshall as part of Minnesota Testing Day for Chlamydia. Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council (SMOC) Family Planning and Nobles County Community Health Services have teamed up to offer the service.

The initiative was taken after the Minnesota Department of Health reported that the number of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases in Nobles County has been rising since 2012. According to the department’s annual reports from 2004-’14, the county had 50 cases of chlamydia in 2014 and 2013 - up from 46 cases in 2012. The county also had a rising number of gonorrhea cases, from zero reported cases in 2010 to five cases in 2014.
Because of the rising number of cases, the county has been designated a high-risk area for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the state, said Nobles County Community Health Administrator Terri Janssen.
However, the data does not include additional medication given to treat partners of those diagnosed with STIs, said Donna Erbes, health services director at SMOC family planning. The real number of people with STIs in Nobles County is a lot higher.
The two organizations and the Minnesota Department of Health have also teamed up to distribute free condoms in Nobles County because it is such a high risk area for STIs. Distribution will begin later this year.
Statewide, teens and young adults had the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea, and that population made up 64 percent of new infections in 2014.

This young population, who are between the ages of 15-24, is the most vulnerable in Nobles County because traditional and religious beliefs inhibit their parents from talking to their children about STIs, Janssen said.
“We want to give them information to help them stay safe and reduce the number of health costs they will have to incur if they have an STI,” Janssen said.
Janssen explained that parents often tell their children to be abstinent instead of telling them to use a condom during sex, either because of religious beliefs or because the conversation can be awkward.
Erbes and Janssen stressed that many teens are not abstinent, and parents should emphasize that condom use will reduce their risk of contracting an STI.
To bridge the gap, Nobles County has three outreach workers who enable teens and adults to use health resources in the community, while remaining culturally sensitive to their values.
Between the three, they speak 11 languages.
In many cultures, language about sex is taboo, Janssen said.
“We want to make sure the knowledge is in the right hands,” she continued.
Many people are also unaware that medicines used to treat chlamydia and gonorrhea cannot be used to treat viral infections such as HIV and HPV. Once a person contracts a viral infection, they cannot be “cured” of it, Erbes said.
In addition, medicine for STIs can be very expensive, and for certain infections, patients may have to travel to different cities to be seen by a doctor, who can prescribe them medication.

The cost of the test can be covered by health insurance. However, many adolescents and young adults, who are still covered by their parents’ insurance, can take the STI test Tuesday with confidence that it will remain discreet.
“They don’t need to be afraid,” Erbes said.
Confidentially always overrides the necessity of being covered by insurance, she continued. The clinic will help patrons find other ways to pay for the test through government grants.
The clinic also considers the patient’s income to determine the cost of the test, she added. Typically, clients who qualify as low-income will pay a lower amount.
The STI tests will take place in Room 320 at 109 S Fifth St. The clinic is open from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., and patients will receive their results within a week by phone.
For more information, call (507) 537-1950.

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