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Leon County Has Highest Per Person Rate of Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, But A Legislative Move Could Help

couple makeing heart with their hands
Kristina Litvjak
/

There are plenty of reasons a person might not seek treatment of a sexually transmitted disease or STD—embarrassment, lack of knowledge, lack of access. But Florida health officials say treatment is essential, not only to that person’s health, but to stop the spread of the disease. A new provision passed by lawmakers could make getting treatment easier.

In Florida’s capital city, sexually transmitted infections are a serious concern. Claudia Blackburn is a health officer for the Leon County Health Department.

“In 2015 Leon County ranked Number one for Gonorrhea and Chlamydia in the state. That doesn’t mean we had the most cases, but if you look at the number of cases per 100-thousand population, we were number one for Gonorrhea and Chlamydia,” Blackburn says.

She says a big reason for Leon County’s high ranking is the area’s large student population.

“It’s most prevalent in 18 to 24 year-olds. So we have an abundance of that population. These are students who maybe are bringing Gonorrhea and Chlamydia with them from their home county so that increases our rates here,” Blackburn says.

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate for infections like Chlamydia are on the rise. And Blackburn says one of the best says to fight that is through treatment from a doctor which can clear up the infection and keep it from getting passed along. But Venice Republican Representative Julio Gonzalez says encouraging people to get that treatment can be easier said than done. And he says if someone does go to the doctor for treatment, it’s not a complete solution unless the person’s partner is also getting treatment.

“The problem then occurs that the gynecologist treats the patient, but because the patient continues to have contact with her partner, that disease continues to come back to that patient and so you get involved in this endless cycle where you really can’t cure the disease because you’re not treating the partner,” Gonzalez says.

Gonzalez, who is a doctor himself, says that’s a concern he’s heard raised for years by his wife who happens to be a gynecologist.

“I’ve been involved with this conversation way before I ever served in public office, not only with my wife, but with her gynecology friends and the frustrations that they would meet in not being able to completely treat their patients because they couldn’t treat their partners," Gonzalez says.

But Gonzalez is behind a bill aimed at addressing that. He says a provision that’s part of a much larger healthcare bill, would legalize what’s called Expedited Partner Therapy.  

“What that is is a provision that would allow a gynecologist to treat a partner of a person who contracted a sexually transmitted disease,” Gonzalez says.

Right now, it’s not legal for a doctor in Florida to treat a patient he or she hasn’t seen. But under the new provision, doctors would be allowed to treat the partners of patients they’re already treating for a certain STDs. The provision covers infections like Gonorrhea and Chlamydia that be treated with antibiotics, but wouldn’t allow partner treatment for viral infections like HIV and AIDS. Recent reports show Florida leads the country in new HIV infections.

The measure containing the provision is awaiting approval from Gov. Rick Scott.