Sexually Transmitted Diseases Are On The Rise Across The Military

Health & Fitness
102d Medical Group personnel doing lab work during the November 2017 Unit Training Assembly at Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts.
DoD photo

Sexually transmitted disease cases are rising in the military in line with a record number of reported cases across the civilian population in the U.S.


“Not long ago, gonorrhea rates were at historic lows, syphilis was close to elimination, and better chlamydia diagnostic tests and more screening were available,” Dr. Gail Bolan, the Centers for Disease Control’s director of STD prevention, wrote in a recent agency report. “That progress has since unraveled.”

The CDC reported its highest-ever number of STD cases this year after increases over a three-year period. Similar rising trends are being seen in the military.

Syphilis diagnoses doubled during the past decade, according to the military’s Medical Surveillance Monthly Report released in September. Chlamydia and gonorrhea cases, stable or declining since a spike in 2008, also were beginning to rise.

Gonorrhea cases have doubled in less than a year at Vicenza, said Lt. Col. Orlando Ruiz Sosa, chief of preventive medicine at the Army’s base health center. Chlamydia cases have increased by more than a third, Ruiz Sosa added.

Vicenza health officials have responded by starting a program that they hope will encourage more people to get tested and treated.

Troops and others with military health benefits may “self-refer” themselves for testing by going to the health center lab — without an appointment, doctor’s referral, sergeant’s sick call approval or commander involvement.

Test results are sent to a confidential physician, if desired. Positive results are relayed in a phone call, followed by treatment and counseling.

Contact information for recent sexual partners is sought so that they also can be tested and, if necessary, treated — but they aren’t told who mentioned them.

The program “is just one more thing to help people access care, with the idea that earlier diagnosis will prevent spread,” said health center spokeswoman Tamara Passut.

Undetected STDs can lead to serious health consequences, yet they frequently show no symptoms. That’s especially true for women, whose physiology makes them more likely to contract chlamydia and gonorrhea from a male partner than the reverse, and more likely to suffer complications.

“Chlamydia — for men it’s an inconvenience. For women, it’s secondary infertility,” said Lt. Col. Eric Garges, director of sexually transmitted infection research at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

Experts recommend that all sexually active women younger than 25 be tested annually for chlamydia. People also should be tested if they’ve had sex with a new partner or multiple partners, or their partners did.

The military has significantly higher STD rates than civilian populations, despite free health care, free condoms and chlamydia screenings, Garges said. Even compared with similar civilian demographics, military rates are significantly higher — three to six times higher, according to one study.

“The question is why is the rate higher once they put on the uniform?” Garges said.

Part of the reason is explained by demographics, experts say. Troops are young, as are the majority of those at risk for STDs.

Where troops come from also plays a role: 44 percent of troops enlist from the southern U.S., which has the highest rates in the nation for gonorrhea and chlamydia.

“They bring their STDs with them,” Garges said.

Troops also can access expanding sexual networks, with partners at their duty stations, in the local civilian community, on deployment and when they go home on leave.

“We think when people put on the uniform, they’re exposed to higher-risk networks,” Garges said. “Your partners have other partners. It allows for diseases to move through populations.”

Surveys have indicated high alcohol use in the military, which is associated with riskier sex and less condom use. One study of Navy women suggested many believed they’d be viewed as sexually promiscuous if they had condoms or insisted on their use.

Ruiz Sosa said many people he’s counseled after they’d been diagnosed expressed embarrassment or shame. “I’ve seen males and females crying,” Ruiz Sosa said. “I try to comfort them. I say it could happen to anyone.”

He also tells them that avoiding STDs requires abstinence or monogamy, and that consistent condom use is highly effective in reducing the risk for sexually active people. “I say, ‘Be careful. Be responsible,’?” he said.

But Garges said the military needed a new overall approach to dealing with STDs. Advising troops merely to be careful and to use condoms obviously has been ineffective, he said.

“I’ve been working on this for years,” Garges said. “We have the exact same problem we had 50 years ago. We have this high burden of disease and we’ve just sort of accepted it.”

———

©2017 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Editor's Note: This article by Hope Hodge Seck originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

In the wake of a heartwarming viral video that was featured everywhere from Good Morning America to the Daily Mail comes a disheartening revelation: The 84-year-old self-described Army nurse cranking out push-ups in her crisp Vietnam-era uniform might not be who she said she was.

Maggie DeSanti, allegedly a retired Army lieutenant colonel who rappeled out of helicopters in Vietnam, was captured in a video challenging a TSA agent to a push-up competition ahead of a flight to Washington, D.C., with the Arizona chapter of the organization Honor Flight on Oct. 16. The video soon was everywhere, and many who shared it, including Honor Flight, hailed DeSanti's toughness and spirit.

Read More Show Less

The summer before sixth grade, Cindy Dawson went to an air show with her father and was enamored by the flight maneuvers the pilots performed.

"I just thought that would be the coolest thing that anybody could ever do," she said, especially having already heard stories about her grandfather flying bombers during World War II with the Army Air Corps.

So by the first day of school, she had already decided what she wanted to be when she grew up.

Read More Show Less
(ABC News)

Peach schnapps, sex on the beach, and piña colada may be familiar drinks to anyone who's spent an afternoon (or a whole day) getting plastered on an ocean-side boardwalk, but they're also specialty desserts at Ray's Boozy Cupcakes, Etc, a bakery in Voorhees, New Jersey run by a 93-year-old World War II veteran named Ray Boutwell.

Read More Show Less
Instagram/US Coast Guard

A former senior Coast Guard official has been accused of shoplifting from a Philadelphia sex shop.

Rear Adm. Francis "Stash" Pelkowski (Ret.) was accused of stealing a tester item from Kink Shoppe on Oct. 8, according to an Instagram post by the store that appeared online two days later. In the post, which included apparent security camera footage of the incident, a man can be seen looking at products on a counter before picking up an item and placing it in his pocket before turning and walking away.

The Instagram post identified the man as Pelkowski, and said it wished him "all the best in his retirement, a sincere thank you for your service, and extreme and utter disappointment in his personal morals."

Read More Show Less

SAN DIEGO —The Marines say changes in the way they train recruits and their notoriously hard-nosed drill instructors have led to fewer incidents of drill instructor misconduct, officials told the Union-Tribune.

Their statement about training followed an Oct. 5 Washington Post report revealing that more than 20 Marines at the San Diego boot camp have been disciplined for misconduct since 2017, including cases of physical attacks and racist and homophobic slurs. The story also was published in the Union-Tribune.

Read More Show Less