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Health Commissioner: STD Rates an "Epidemic" In Erie County

11:50 PM, Apr 30, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Parents don't want to think about their kids having sex, much less talk about it. But's it's a conversation parents need to have to help battle a growing epidemic affecting teens in WNY.

New data show STD rates are on the rise in Erie County, and Gonorrhea has seen a dramatic increase.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein called it a local health epidemic, noting Gonorrhea cases have increased 61 percent over just the past couple of years.

Making matters worse, Dr. Burstein -- who is a national expert on the topic and is even helping the CDC with its new STD guidelines -- said some strains of the infection are becoming resistent to antibiotics.

"It's very scary," she said, adding that there are no new antibiotics in the industry pipeline. She said health experts are now trying to find the right combinations of current medications to limit the resistence.

Dr. Burstein said the increase in STD infections shows prevention is more important than ever. She encouraged parents to talk about sex with their kids.

"There's no time like the present to start those conversations," Dr. Burstein said. "If we don't talk about it, then we won't talk about how to prevent it, what type of testing that needs to be done to make sure that people who are at risk you know aren't infected, what the treatment is, how to prevent it."

Dr. Burstein said schools also need to do more to education youth, who are seeing much of the increase in STD infections.

The health director of Buffalo Schools admits the current curriculum isn't getting the job done.

"Inconsistency," Health Director Assunta Ventresca said. "I don't think there was a solid curriculum being used."

But that is changing. Ventresca helped start a sexual health committee for the Buffalo Public School District. It has been meeting for around 2 years. It is re-writing the curriculum and will present its proposals to the board for approval before next school year.

"This (new) curriculum is skilled-based," Ventresca said. "Students are not just gonna be, ya know, here's a piece of paper or here's knowledge. They're gonna be building skills on relationships, on saying no, refusal skills."

A recent survey of students showed alarming trends within Buffalo Schools. More than half of high schoolers have had sexual intercourse, with nearly 12 percent of them doing so before age 13. One in five has had 4 or more partners, and around a third didn't use a condom in their last sexual encounter.

"The data is significant enough that we know we have to do something," Ventresca said.

The district will host its final public forum to get input from parents on May 9 at 5:30 p.m. at the Howard Lewis Parent Center on Albany Street.

Ventresca said parents who want to opt their kids out of controversial parts of the new curriculum -- including talks about condoms and contraception -- will have that opportunity.

Separately, she said the district will also take up the controversial idea of making condoms available to high school students. That policy is expected to be finalized before next school year.

Dr. Burstein said she's confident that the STD statistics can be turned around, but knowledge is key.

"It's not just up to the schools," Dr. Burstein said. "It's not just up to the health department. It's a problem in our community, and we all have to work together to try to address this."

The health department has information for teens and parents regarding STDs on its website. The county also runs a free and confidential STD clinic for testing. Dr. Burstein recommends sexually active people get an STD test at least once a year.

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