Sacramento County offers free test kits to curb rise in STDs

Published: Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 - 5:15 pm
Last Modified: Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am

Sacramento County is looking to Southern California for a solution to its stubbornly high rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

Since 2009, Los Angeles County has given thousands the opportunity to test themselves, free of charge, in the privacy of their own homes.

Now, Sacramento County, struggling to contain year-to-year increases in its STD rates, is adopting a similar program. Alameda and San Diego counties are doing the same.

The program, called "I Know," offers free test kits to young women under an anonymous service.

Women can go to a website, request a kit be mailed discreetly to a home address or find out where they can pick one up if receiving a package is not an option.

"Women have told us that they like having an easy, convenient way to take charge of their health," said Heidi Bauer, chief of the California Department of Public Health STD Control Branch, which is helping fund the effort.

"Getting these test kits into the hands of young women has helped us find new cases of STDs that would otherwise have gone undetected," Bauer said.

The kit will test for chlamydia and gonorrhea, two of the most common forms of STDs.

Sacramento County had the third-highest rate of gonorrhea cases among the state's 58 counties in 2012. It had the fourth-highest rate of chlamydia and syphilis cases.

The new STD cases have jumped since 2008, when budget cuts gnawed away at the county's safety net clinics.

Officials say the lack of resources means they can't track the sources of infection as well as they used to, which hurts prevention efforts.

One factor cited to explain the increase in STDs is a reported rise in the use of smartphones to hook up for sex.

"We have an epidemic of chlamydia and gonorrhea among teens and young adults in Sacramento County, especially among young women," said Sacramento County STD Control Officer Dr. Miriam Shipp.

Between the two diseases, Sacramento counted about 10,000 cases in the year 2011.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea often have no symptoms. When left untreated, the diseases can have long-term consequences, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, reproductive organ damage, infertility and increased susceptibility to HIV infection if exposed.

Pregnant women, in particular, should test themselves as the diseases could lead to ill-fated ectopic pregnancies, in which the fertilized egg settles outside of the inner lining of the uterus.

The STD test kit is designed specifically for women 25 and younger. It can be ordered through the website or by phone at (916) 875-KNOW (5669).

Upon receiving the test, a woman takes a swab and returns the sample via mail to a lab. Results can be checked on a secure Internet site that identifies the samples by a number, not a name.

In addition, the county will provide information about the diseases and treatment through the above website.

Call The Bee's Cynthia H. Craft, (916) 321-1270.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Cynthia H. Craft

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