Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease, and a disease that around 1,500 women and men in Lancaster County contracted last year.
The relatively new world of social media plays a role when it comes to an old-fashioned disease like chlamydia.
The new virtual world that we live in today often eliminates the face-to-face conversation that allows couples to get comfortable with each other and talk about safe sex. But that same world also allows a person infected with the bacteria to notify partners anonymously, says Andrea Haberman, a local health department manager and expert on sexually transmitted diseases.
Chlamydia is the most commonly reported infectious disease; its numbers are higher than all types of hepatitis combined. Actually, chlamydia ranks head and shoulders above the combined total of all other reportable infectious diseases.
And the disease, which often does not show symptoms for women but can scar fallopian tubes and the uterus and can cause infertility and ectopic pregnancy, continues to rise in Lincoln and across the nation.
Omaha has an even higher rate, and it’s is being called an epidemic there, says Haberman, a manager with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.
But it’s Haberman’s job to worry about Lincoln.
Testing for chlamydia is now simple and painless. It’s a urine sample rather than the old urethra swab that was painful for men. Women can also use the urine sample, but the test is usually done the old-fashioned way, as part of a pelvic exam, Haberman said.
The treatment is straightforward; a single dose of antibiotic medicine and seven days of sexual abstinence.
It’s easy, cheap and covered by most insurance, Haberman said. But still the numbers have gone up, including the number of people reinfected within six months of being treated.
This past year Department of Health staff conducted an experiment to see if they could reduce that re-infection rate.
A staff member called every client within a day or two of their clinic visit to ask if they had any reaction to the medicine, to remind them of the seven days of abstinence and to ask if they had informed their partner.
The opportunity to follow up the initial diagnosis, which often leaves people a bit shocked, proved to be successful.
The reinfection rate of those who had been diagnosed at the county health clinic nose dived, resulting in the lowest reinfection rate in at least five years.
Clinic staff also helped notify partners when the client was uncomfortable doing so. There are groups that forward emails or texts, allowing someone to notify partners anonymously. The staff encourages women to notify a partner personally, but anonymous options exist, Haberman said.
Email, texting, Facebook and online dating are also driving chlamydia into an older age group, Haberman believes. Though chlamydia is still most commonly seen in the 15- to 24-year-old group, the number of older people testing positive has increased over the last five years, she said.
“It’s already difficult to have that talk about safe sex, to negotiate for safe sex. A lot of times it’s easier to have unsafe sex than talk about unsafe sex.
“It’s a struggle.” she says.
And then you throw in social media, where you have even less face-to-face conversation.
It is important to get to know the person beyond social media, to be able to trust that what that person says to you is true, Haberman says.
The health department clinic is seeing people with chlamydia in their 30s, 40s and 50s and sometimes in their 60s, she said.
“Older people should not be saying it couldn’t happen to me.”