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Planned Parenthood in Portage (copy)

The Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Portage served about 800 people in 2014, including patients from Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells, among other places.

In response to a trend of rising sexually transmitted infections in Columbia County, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is offering free testing at its Portage clinic.

“We are seeing an increase in sexually transmitted infections, and it is true in Columbia County, and it is the same trend we are seeing across the country,” said Meghan Benson, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin’s director of community education. “So we know that infections are going up and there is a need for prevention and intervention.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Columbia County has seen an increase in the reported infection rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis between 2014 and 2017, coinciding with a state and national trend.

The rise in the rate of chlamydia is the most notable, increasing from 188 per 100,000 in Columbia County in 2014, to 230 the following year and 254 in 2016. Figures for 2017 are not yet available. Statewide, the rate has gone from 406 per 100,000 in 2014 to 485 in 2017.

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The Planned Parenthood Get Yourself Tested program has provided free STD screening in the month of April since 2007, testing for gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV, with syphilis screening for at-risk patients based on recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Fortunately many of our patients don’t fall in a high-risk category for syphilis,” Benson said. “However, if someone comes into our clinic and is at risk, we can provide that test as well.”

A secondary goal of the testing program is to develop more reliable statistics on the prevalence of STD infection. Rates compiled by the CDC are not guaranteed to be comprehensive, but reflect the results of those who have been tested at a Planned Parenthood center, public health clinic or a private health care provider.

Public health experts use the data to identify at-risk populations.

“Younger people are definitely at higher risk,” Benson said. “The 20 to 24 years old age range is experiencing the highest rate of sexually transmitted infections, followed by 15 to 19 year olds.”

The CDC recommends anyone under 25 who is sexually active should be tested annually for chlamydia and gonorrhea.

Columbia County Public Health Officer Susan Lorenz told Columbia County Board of Supervisors Health and Human Services Committee on April 11 that the county’s high schoolers reported having intercourse at a lower rate than their peers statewide.

According to a 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered to high school students by the Department of Public Instruction, fewer than 1 in 3 high schoolers reported having sex.

“For us 27.5 percent; in Wisconsin it was 33.3 percent,” Lorenz told the committee.

“Percentage of students who have had sexual intercourse with one or more people in the last three months: ours was 21 percent, Wisconsin is 24.9 percent,” said Lorenz. “This could explain that chlamydia, which is a sexually-transmitted infection, is the no. 1 reported communicable disease in Columbia County, the state of Wisconsin, and our nation.”

Benson said the numbers also may be rising as more people are tested.

“I think testing resources are becoming more available,” said Benson. “Planned Parenthood is definitely a main source of STD testing for many communities, but there are other places people can get tested in many communities, so some health departments offer services, private physicians, but if someone doesn’t have access to some of those other resources, again, Planned Parenthood is always here for folks to get tested.”

The Columbia County Health and Human Services website’s page dedicated to STD information offers links to testing providers, including Planned Parenthood. The site also provides a list of 21 public health clinics that provide STD testing, including hours and contact information, though none of the clinics are in Columbia, Sauk, Marquette or Dodge counties.

Appointments for testing at Planned Parenthood of Portage can be made by phone or on at the Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin website, www.PPWi.org. Once there, Benson said, they aim to have a patient in and out the door within an hour, with many tests based off a simple urine sample.

“We see education as a key component to prevention and we have a sex education text line, so young people or anyone can text the words “safersex” to 69866 and one of our educators will respond within 24 hours to answer their questions,” Benson said. “If their questions are related to needing health services, we can provide them with referrals to our centers for those services.”

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