When Erie County was slammed by the COVID-19 pandemic just over a year ago, the county had to shut down many of its routine health operations and pivot to fighting the virus. In recent weeks, there has been a return to more normal operations and serious sexual ill-health problems are turning up at its sexual health clinic.
The county clinic base at 608 William St. in Buffalo houses the sexual health and family planning clinics. Operations closed for a year, as some of the same skills needed to fight sexually transmitted illnesses -- like contact tracers -- turned out to be vital in fighting the pandemic.
"We really had to pivot staff away from from the clinics to COVID-19 operations," said County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein. "So, unfortunately, until recently, our STD and family planning clinics were closed and we were referring people to other great sexual health providers in the community."
Seven weeks ago, the clinics were re-started and customers are trickling in, looking for testing for STIs and other help.
"In Erie County and across the United States, we have seen a significant increase of many of these sexually transmitted infections," said Burstein. "Here, specifically in Erie County, we've seen a significant increase in reported gonorrhea cases. Actually, between 2019 and 2020, there was a 56% increase in reported gonorrhea cases."
That disease is easily treated by an antibiotic if it's spotted in screening.
Burstein said the number of chlamydia cases is way down in screening, but cases may not be, as the infection is not as obvious as gonorrhea. For many younger women, chlamydia can make it difficult to have children, unless treated early after being found in screening.
"When women should find out they're infected is when they go in for their annual physical exams. It could be with a primary care provider. It could be with an OB-GYN, any type of health care provider and they can get their routine annual gonorrhea and chlamydia tests," said Burstein. "So this should be an annual screening test, just like you get your blood pressure checked and you get your cholesterol checked."
The health commissioner said both chlamydia and gonorrhea are important as sentinel tests for men having sex with men, because they can be a warning of potential future HIV transmission and there is medication to prevent transmission, if taken.