By Alexa Ard
RENO, Nev. – A tall black poster board stands on top of a table inside the gym at Miguel Ribera Park to protect those sitting on the other side. An eight and a half by 11-inch paper is taped to the board and reads: FREE TESTING TODAY – with HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis typed out on each corner of the white paper. This is one of several health booths offered at Reno’s third family health festival hosted by Truckee Meadows Healthy Communities on May 25.
How fast patients get results from the free STD testing booth depends on the disease. Rapid testing is available for HIV, which only takes 15 minutes.
Rudy Perez is a sexual health awareness promoter from the Washoe County Health District working the table at the health festival. He said many people are hesitant to get tested even though, as he said, “it’s natural to have sex.” The table also offers a variety of free contraceptives such as condoms and dental dams for oral sex.
Last year, TMHC published a study on the 89502 zip code in Washoe County, the area with the highest Latino population, which noted residents in this area face challenges with access to healthcare, low wages, higher mortality rates, and more.
However, sexual health was not addressed in the community profile.
“It’s never really a priority for a bigger picture like that,” said Jennifer Howell, sexual health coordinator at WCHD. “People don’t really want to talk about sex, but it’s everywhere.”
Truckee Meadows Healthy Communities has tried to address sexual health by inviting WCHD to do free STD and HIV testing at each family health festival they’ve hosted since July 2015. This is one way the Washoe County Health District is trying to reach out to the Latino community to encourage testing.
Nationally, Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians combined suffer from higher rates of STDs than Whites as noted in the graphs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2014. Data for 2015 is not yet available. Forty-three states submitted data on reported cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea from Hispanics annually from 2010-2014, and 44 states did the same for syphilis. The data was adjusted for each race per 100,000 people.
According to the CDC, in its report generated by its NCHHSTP Atlas tool, minorities showed higher rates of HIV both in Nevada and nationally.
Howell added that the higher rates of STDs and HIV amongst minorities could be due to socioeconomic status. Minorities, specifically Blacks and Hispanics, have higher poverty rates with 27.4 percent and 26.6 percent respectively according to The State of Working America.
“A lot of times, communities of color have less access to services, a lower education level, less resources to be able to get tested and treated,” Howell said.
The Washoe County Health District doesn’t want to turn anyone away due to financial reasons, so it provides testing on a sliding fee scale that accounts for a person’s income and the services sought.
Howell noted there are common symptoms for STDs people can watch out for including pain during sex, pain while urinating, burning, sores, and for females, a discharge that’s different than the usual. However, it’s important to note that most STDs are asymptomatic, which means there would be no symptoms.
Howell said cultural influences could possibly be another reason some minorities, specifically women, don’t get tested because it may be viewed as unacceptable. As a result, Howell has seen many situations where women learn they have an STD or HIV during prenatal care.
“They’re kind of surprised because they didn’t realize,” she said. “They thought the relationship was more monogamous than it was.”
But the main factor Howell stressed the most was paying attention to behaviors.
“If they’re having unprotected sex, they should get tested – even if they think they know who their partner is and what their relationship is,” Howell said. “If they’ve never been tested before, just get tested so you know what your status is. If you’ve changed partners, if you have multiple partners, anything like that, get tested.”
If untreated, STDs and HIV can lead to more serious issues. For instance, syphilis can affect internal organs resulting in damage to the brain, heart, nerves and eyes.
Nevada has seen a rise in syphilis and gonorrhea, the latter of which can cause infertility. As a result, Howell said agencies like WCHD are moving away from investigating chlamydia.
In an email to our team, Howell said fewer than 40 people total have been tested at the last four family health festivals combined, not including the last one in July. All tests returned negative results. WCHD is also trying to reach Latinos through a partnership with the Latino Pride New Generation, the Northern Nevada Outreach Team, and Northern Nevada HOPES.