Austin-Travis County health leaders urge testing as STI rates increase

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County leaders are urging residents to utilize local low-cost and free testing and treatment options for sexually transmitted infections, as the number of reported infections has risen recently.

According to Austin Public Health, the Austin area is following a national trend of increasing levels of many STIs, including gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia.

“Anyone can get an STI, but many don’t show symptoms,” said APH’s Dr. Desmar Walkes. “At the same time, many STIs can be treated, and early detection can prevent major complications and spread. With the rate of infection rising nationally and locally, we urge everyone to get tested regularly and treat any infections as soon as possible.” 

The most current data available from the Texas Department of State Health Services show what APH called alarming statistics, including: 

The number of new chlamydia infections per person remains stable but still high at 614.8 cases per 100,000 population in 2020.

The rate of new cases of gonorrhea per person for Travis County has been steadily increasing with a 50 percent increase from 2015 to 2020. 

In 2015, the number of new primary and secondary syphilis cases per person in Travis County was 15.7 per 100,000 population. By 2020, cases increased by 30% to 20.7 cases per 100,000 population.

The new infection rate for HIV has been declining in Travis County since 2015, but there are still disparities. Black women in Travis County have the highest rate of new HIV diagnoses compared to women of other races and ethnicities, according to APH.   

Many common STIs may not have symptoms.

Infections like chlamydia, human papillomavirus (HPV) and HIV may not show symptoms, meaning people may have an infection without knowing and unwittingly pass it to their partner or partners.

Infected people with an untreated STI may also develop other health concerns or complications like pelvic inflammatory disease, cancer, infertility, heart disease, organ failure or chronic pain, APH said.  

STI testing, treatment options in and around Austin

APH said a critical step to prevent the spread of STIs is to get tested regularly, even if you don’t have symptoms or don’t think you were exposed. Early treatment can prevent complications from STIs and keep you from passing one to someone else. You can also get vaccinated against HPV and start PrEP to prevent contracting HIV.

The City of Austin offers free or low-cost resources for STI testing:

3rd Annual LGBTQIA Health and Resource Fair – Dec. 9, 12-5 p.m., Permitting and Development Center, 6310 Wilhelmina Delco Drive, Austin, TX 78752, free parking available with validation. This public event offers STI/HIV testing, valuable resources from community organizations, entertainment and more. 

RBJ Sexual Health Clinic – 15 Waller St., Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 12 p.m., and 1 – 5 p.m., appointments recommended. $20 for testing and treatment of common STIs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV. 

Red Ribbon program – FREE testing for HIV as well as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis throughout the City by appointment or at the mobile clinic.  

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