IONIA, Mich. — The Ionia County Health Department is urging people to get tested due to sexually transmitted infections and diseases being on the rise nationwide.
While some are easily treatable, many people aren’t even aware that anything is wrong with them.
"STDs are on the rise nationwide, in Michigan, in Ionia County, pretty much everywhere," said Ken Bowen, health officer with the Ionia County Health Department.
The diseases can cause serious health problems, especially if they aren’t caught early on and many people won’t experience any symptoms at all until it’s too late.
"The only way to know your status for sure is to get tested," Bowen said.
So far this year, the department has seen 60 cases of chlamydia in the first half of the year, but that's not all.
"We’ve had ten of syphilis and seventeen of gonorrhea, that’s also something that people really aren’t aware of is that syphilis cases are on the rise nationwide."
The Centers for Disease Control says those three STDs – chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis – are among the most easily treated and cured, but only if diagnosed early.
If left untreated, they can cause more serious problems such as chronic pelvic pain, genital warts or even cervical cancer.
"We just want to remind people that they should know their STD status," he said. "They should know the STD status of their partners and the only way to know that is to get tested."
The Ionia County Health Department offers free confidential testing along with several other area health departments.
The CDC estimates 19 million new STDs popping up in the United States each year, roughly half of those affecting people ages 15 to 24.
"We do see more cases in the younger age groups but we’re seeing more cases than ever before in the older age groups, too," he said.
Bowen says practicing safe sex is equally important.
"Condom use is actually on the decline and we want people to know that they should be using condoms," he said.
Abstaining from sex altogether is, of course, the easiest way to avoid contracting an STD but the CDC says keeping sexual partners to a minimum and getting the HPV vaccine before age 26 are also helpful strategies.