NEW JERSEY – Ocean Health Initiatives, (OHI), the New Jersey Primary Care Association, (NJPCA), the New Jersey Department of Health, and LabCorp hosted a press conference to highlight Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) Awareness Month. At the press conference, a patient advocate who was diagnosed with an STI shared her experience.
Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling from New Jersey’s 11th district attended the press conference. Representatives from UnitedHealthcare, Amerigroup NJ, WellCare NJ, the Family Planning Center of Ocean County, Planned Parenthood, New Jersey Family Planning League, and other organizations were also in attendance. The press conference alerted the public to the importance of STI testing, which is available at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs).
“It is important that the members of the community and patients of FQHC’s are made aware of the resources available to them. Providing accessible treatment options and starting the conversation about STI Awareness can go a long way towards prevention. I am honored that we are able to host this press conference at our Lakewood Health Center and bring a united platform straight to our patient population,” said Dr. Theresa Berger, President and CEO of OHI.
NJPCA and its partners are highlighting STI Awareness Month by distributing materials on the importance of testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea. In 2016, as reported by the New Jersey Department of Health, there were over 41,000 confirmed cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea in the State.
“The New Jersey Primary Care Association has launched a statewide effort in recognition of April as STI Awareness Month. We are highlighting the month by emphasizing the importance of testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Federally Qualified Health Centers regularly provide materials in their ongoing commitment to test and treat patients. NJPCA developed this campaign to bring attention to the fact if left undetected and untreated, STIs can cause serious health consequences,” said Jillian Hudspeth, President and CEO of NJPCA.
To help bring attention to the importance of testing for FQHC patients, NJPCA developed a campaign to relay this information through visible print materials and social media.
“STI Awareness month is a great opportunity to talk about the importance of screening and open communication between providers and patients,” said Amelia Hamarman, M.S.Ed., M.S., Assistant STD Program Manager, New Jersey Department of Health. “The New Jersey Department of Health is pleased to support the NJPCA’s campaign. Community Health Centers provide essential services that protect the health of their patients and the communities in which they live.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year in the United States. There were 1,598,354 cases of chlamydia reported in 2016 and 468,514 cases reported of gonorrhea. Nationwide, STIs account for almost $16 billion in health care costs annually.
“We applaud the NJPCA, Ocean Health Initiatives, and Federally Qualified Health Centers across the state for their excellent work to meet the health care needs of the people they serve,” said Jane Yang, M.D., Medical Science Liaison for LabCorp Diagnostics. “This STI Awareness Campaign is a great way to help more people understand the importance of screening for STIs, the available treatment options, and how to reduce the risk of transmission of STIs.”
Antibiotics can cure chlamydia and gonorrhea. However, left untreated, these infections can put men, women, and infants at risk for serious health impacts like chronic pain, severe reproductive health complications, and HIV. Without treating the infection, women can be put at increased risk for pelvic inflammatory disease, which may result in chronic pelvic pain, infertility, and potentially a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. It is estimated that undiagnosed STDs cause infertility in more than 20,000 women each year.
At 25 years old, Lauren from North Carolina was diagnosed with chlamydia – a common STI that can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause infertility when left untreated.
“I cried when I received my positive test results,” said Lauren. “I felt a lot of shame, and I never thought I would’ve have been ‘that person’ who gets an STI.” Because she was tested, Lauren was able to receive treatment with an antibiotic. “Getting an STI is human, it’s common, so we need to start having real conversations especially with our friends to normalize testing and protect our sexual health.”
Her experience has led her to advocate and empower young adults. She is an ambassador for the American Sexual Health Association (ashasexualhealth.org).
Most women with gonorrhea do not have any symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even when a woman has symptoms, they are often mild and can be mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. Some men with gonorrhea may have no symptoms at all. In rare situations, untreated gonorrhea can also spread to a patient’s blood or joints. This condition can be life-threatening.
“STD testing, treatment, and prevention is a core part of Planned Parenthood’s health care services and education efforts,” said Christine Sadovy, Legislative and Political Director for Planned Parenthood of Northern, Central, and Southern New Jersey. “We believe that all people should be able to access high-quality, affordable reproductive health care services, including STD testing and treatment, and we are proud to help all New Jerseyans access that care.”
It is important for patients to know that if they are diagnosed with an STI, it can be treated with medicine and some can be cured entirely. To learn more about the STI Awareness Month and how to schedule an appointment, please call OHI at 732-363-6655.
The event was held at OHI’s Lakewood Health Center, 101 Second Street in Lakewood, New Jersey.