Dallas County health officials concerned about spike in STDs

Dallas County health officials are raising concern about a spike in sexually transmitted diseases, especially among younger people and in some minority communities.

One factor likely playing a roll — social media. Health officials say there had been a steady decline in STDs nationwide, until a few years ago

Dr. Deborah Morris-Harris sees patients at Prism Health North Texas near Dallas’ Fair Park. It’s located in a zip code, 75210, that has a very high prevalence area for HIV as well as STDs.

“I think because of poverty and the lack of transportation, if we can reduce those barriers we can actually get more viral suppression,” Morris-Harris said.

It’s an urgent need as HIV cases are ticking back up, along with other STDs talked about a lot less openly.

Ganesh Shivaramaiyer, interim director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, runs a clinic for STD testing diagnosis and patient interviews to help with partner notification.

“Our emphasis is on the three main ones — chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis,” said Shivaramaiyer.

Shivaramaiyer says overall STDs are up about 25 percent. In some African American and Latino populations that number can be nearly three times higher.

Most of those new cases are among 15 to 24 year olds, who may gravitate toward social media apps that can facilitate hook ups.

“You don’t want to have a setback in life starting with having a disease at that age and that’s happening and the recognition of that is very important,”

Shivaramaiyer says education is key. The county is deploying a mobile unit for testing across the community and partnering with schools and organizations to help start a difficult but necessary dialogue.

“The conversation is hard to have and I think often times we say oh, it’s not happening in my household, we try to brush it aside,” Shivaramaiyer said. “This information is important.”

Health officials said destigmatizing STD prevention and treatment is a big part of their plan. It will rebranding the STD clinic, calling it just a sexual health clinic and it's making services more accessible for teens.