Clark County Health Department Discusses STD Awareness Month

Riley Hebert

Clark County Health Department Discusses STD Awareness Month

4 min.
May 4, 2021

The Month of April was STD Awareness Month.

I spoke with Kelsey Wussow, the Lead Public Health Nurse with the Clark County Health Department, and she acknowledged how this conversation may be an uncomfortable one to have, but it is a necessary one to have.  Kelsey began by explaining the difference between the terms STD and STI.

Kelsey:  “One piece I want to shed light on right away are the terms STD & STI, which are frequently used interchangeably-but the fact is, there is a clear difference."
"The term sexually transmitted infection (STI) is technically a more accurate term to use in a broad lens & in general conversation, because “infections” are curable & may not cause any symptoms-which is true of most STIs."

"If the infection goes on to alter the typical function of the body, then it’s more appropriate to refer to it as a disease, or STD (example of that would be HIV or AIDS)-as the body is significantly compromised."

"Folks get confused, rightfully so, because CDC still uses the term STDs, whereas practitioners and clinical staff working in the reproductive health arena, are almost always using STI."

"So just for clarity-no term is better or more correct; but for the purpose of my presentation today, I wanted to point that out & let it be known that I will be using the term STI."

"So, for those of you not familiar, let us start by defining STIs: they are infectious diseases, which are spread from person to person-through intimate (or sexual) contact."

"They can affect men & women of all ages who are sexually active. Many STIs show no symptoms, mild symptoms, or symptoms can show up later, after the exposure occurred.”

“The reason I am on today, is to discuss a campaign that we are involved in.  Annually, for the last several years, the Clark County Health Department (CCHD) has participated in a Get Yourself Tested or GYT Campaign."

"The Campaign is funded through Health Care Education & Training (HCET), with support from the State of Wisconsin STI Unit.  The purpose of the campaign is to empower young people to get tested and treated for STIs and HIV; while also seeking to reduce stigma, increase awareness, and prevent the transmission of STIs."

"This project fits perfectly as a Public Health initiative, as our purpose is educate, promote health, & prevent the transmission of communicable diseases."

"One objective of this campaign is to find at least one community organization or small business to partner with, to access additional at-risk populations for STI testing."

"On Thursday, April 29th, the CCHD will be collaborating with the Clark County Jail, to offer STI services & education to individuals in the jail.  We are hoping to partner with a new agency or organization to host a GYT event, so if anyone is interested to collaborate, please contact me directly at 715-937-2003.”

“So you may be wondering, are STIs even a concern in Clark County?  In preparing the Communicable Disease Control section of CCHD’s 2020 Annual Report, I was amazed to learn how the pandemic affected the # of communicable disease cases in 2020, compared to 2019."

"All vaccine-preventable diseases, such as Pertussis (Whooping Cough), and all but one GI-related illnesses, like Salmonella for example-decreased.  However, the one group of diseases that trended up, were STIs."

"In 2019, Clark County had 44 reported Chlamydia cases, and 3 Gonorrhea cases-in 2020, those numbers jumped from 44 to 59 for Chlamydia, and 3 to 11, for Gonorrhea."

"Now, those numbers maybe do not sound too scary, however, these numbers are only reflecting a portion of the total # of people actually infected with STIs."

"We can only track the cases that are reported to us-and that starts with people going to their provider or a family planning clinic to complete STI testing. We cannot account for infections that are not lab-confirmed."

"Given that some of the most common STI’s, like Chlamydia & Gonorrhea have no symptoms associated with them, it’s scary to think of how many individuals are walking around with these infections, and have zero clue. So again, testing is the only sure way to confirm or rule out infections."

"Over the last year, Public Health has focused our efforts on preventing the spread of COVID-19, rightfully so, but this is a perfect opportunity to remind folks that STI transmission has not only continued to be an issue, but is on the rise at an alarming rate, not only in our area or state, but nationwide."

"For years, the U.S. has been battling steep, sustained increases in STIs. According to the CDC, a recent report estimates that about 20% of the U.S. population-approximately 1 in 5 people had an STI on any given day in 2018-that is a heavy statistic.”

“Outside of the GYT Campaign, the CCHD does provide year-round STI testing and other Reproductive Health-related services at the Health Department in Neillsville, or at our Family Planning clinic in Greenwood, so do not hesitate to reach out and schedule an appointment."

"Prevention is always easier than treatment. Our services are free, confidential and discreet. You can find our information on the Clark County Health Department website."

"Start by searching clarkcounty.wi.gov, and choose Health Department, and from there, click on programs & services, and then RH services.  STI prevention, testing, and treatment is a huge need in Clark County."

"I work in Reproductive Health, so this topic is easy for me to talk about, but I understand the stigma around STIs, and how this information can make folks feel uncomfortable."

"However, we need to start breaking that barrier down, because the bottom line is, STIs can cause serious, life-long, & life-threatening conditions if they are not detected and promptly treated.  Without testing, we cannot properly detect & treat STIs."

"The beauty is, most STIs can be treated, and be treated simply-with medication. The problem we face in Clark County, given our rural & conservative communities, is getting people to build up the courage to talk about, and present for these services. This is a barrier that we can overcome."

"Therefore, I encourage all sexually active people to be open with their doctor about concerning symptoms, or to test annually for STIs if you are in the age range of 18-25, even if you are in a mutually monogamous relationship-screening once a year can help prevent life-long side effects & complications, and most tests just require a urine sample or blood draw-it’s that simple.”

This article was orginally reported by
Riley Hebert

Riley Hebert is news director for Central Wisconsin Broadcasting.