Tonight we take a closer look at people impacted by the state’s most common sexually transmitted infection, chlamydia. The state health department says Montana is on track for over 4,000 cases of chlamydia by year’s end.
More than 2,000,000 new cases of sexually transmitted infections were reported last year in the United States, that’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yesterday we told you about Montana perhaps gaining ground in the battle against gonorrhea, while facing an alarming rise in syphilis.
Jessica Vanderziel’s long-term relationship fell apart about two years ago. Breakups are never fun and this one was no exception.
"I was in a very downward spiral at that point," she says.
Vanderziel suddenly found herself back on the dating scene. The then-24-year-old Missoulian says she was drinking too much at that time and not making great decisions:
"Just being a little more promiscuous than I was, and putting myself in more high-risk situations."
Meaning, she says, not always demanding her partners wear a condom, or discussing sexual histories. Before long Vanderziel started to notice unusual symptoms.
"I had pain during urination. I was just in a lot of discomfort," she says.
She ignored the problem for a while, but eventually sought help. The diagnosis was positive for chlamydia.
Chlamydia is the frontline infection in the nation’s ballooning STD epidemic. The Montana health department projects over 4,000 cases of chlamydia will be reported in Montana by year’s end.
"Which is actually a little less than last year," says Judy Neilson, the Montana health department’s STD-HIV Prevention Section supervisor.
"Women are diagnosed with chlamydia more often, generally because they go to doctors’ offices more often. They need their regular paps for birth control – we believe that’s just a matter of more testing. They're getting it from male partners, or sharing it with male partners, so the disease is probably equal should the men be tested as often," Neilson says.
Chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, however, it can lead to serious complications, including infertility.
There are many explanations behind the alarming rise in sexually transmitted infections. One of them is the emergence of the new "hook up culture." Tindr, CasualX, Snapchat and Grindr are some of the most popular apps for people seeking both traditional dates, and yes, anonymous sex.
Jessica Vanderziel works at Missoula’s Open Aid Alliance whose services including a needle exchange and screenings for sexually transmitted infections. She says anonymous hookups online or at the local bar are neither uncommon nor tough to find, but cautions that, "At that point you are putting yourself at more of a risk just not knowing who that other person has been sleeping with, if they’re doing that every night. You know what you’re doing, but you never know what anyone else is doing."
Edward O'Brien: Have a lot of your friends, many of your friends, any of your friends, had run-ins with STIs?
"The majority, yes. Pretty much the all of my friends have had some sort of STI, or been exposed or know someone who has," Vanderziel says.
Experts say condom use is a must in uncommitted sexual relationships.
Further aggravating infection rates is the tricky nature of sexually transmitted infections. Sometimes they present no obvious symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends yearly chlamydia and gonorrhea testing of all sexually active women younger than 25 years of age. CDC also recommends at least one HIV test for everyone aged 13 to 64 who visits a doctor. Men who have sex with men should talk to their healthcare providers about general sexual health screenings.
Missoula’s Jessica Vanderziel says we as a nation need to have more frank discussions about sexual health:
"We need people to know that it’s okay to have an STI. It’s okay to have that happen to you and be human. Treatment is just a step away. Don’t beat yourself up for something that you did in your past. We all make mistakes. We can all move forward.”