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Some Peoria County STI rates are falling, but overall cases remain high

Syphilis cases in California have contributed to soaring national caseloads of sexually transmitted diseases. Experts point to the advent of dating apps, less condom use and an increase in meth.
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Syphilis cases in California have contributed to soaring national caseloads of sexually transmitted diseases. Experts point to the advent of dating apps, less condom use and an increase in meth.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea rates fell in Peoria County last year - but the region is still ranked among the top counties on a statewide list of sexually transmitted infection rates.

That's one of the main takeaways from the Peoria City/County Health Department's 2021 Sexually Transmitted Infections Report.

Tracy Terlinde is an epidemiologist at the health department. She said COVID-19 likely played a role in decreased recorded transmissions.

"There could be reduced screening, limited appointment times, clinic availability, reduced resources for testing and treatment," she said. "Also, we had social distancing measures put in place. So individuals might not have been in certain situations where they had increased contact."

Peoria County chlamydia rates fell 23% last year when compared to 2020. Gonorrhea rates were down 15%. But syphilis rates rose 19% over the same period, continuing a pattern of increasing case numbers observed in recent years. Terlinde said it's having a disproportionate impact among certain populations, with case rates far higher among Black men than their white counterparts.

"It's very concentrated in our 61604, and (61605) ZIP codes. These two ZIP codes contain about 55% of our syphilis cases in Peoria County, while they're only representing 18%, of the total population of Peoria County," she said.

Other STI incident rates break down along similar patterns affecting disproportionately African Americans and people living in certain ZIP codes, she noted. Peoria County reports the second highest incident rates of chlamydia by county in Illinois, and the third-highest gonorrhea rates.

"While our rates have decreased, we're still very high. And we still have a lot of work to do. Rates are highest among our individuals between that 15 to 29 age group that we are seeing," Terlinde said. "And as this can have other poor health outcomes, those disparities do exist in regard to race and place."

Terlinde said the health department developed a Comprehensive STI Rate Reduction Plan, which includes not only testing and treatment, but anonymous notifications for a person's sexual partners to get tested, too.

"We do have some hesitancy, (but) when we do tell people that it is anonymous, they're more comfortable with that. Or they're more comfortable with the Tell Your Partner app, rather than the Peoria City/County Health Department calling," she said. "So we typically can work with an individual and they're comfortable one way or the other."

Terlinde said while most STIs are identified through urine samples, they are also recommending routine throat and rectal screening for certain sexually active populations, such as people who have multiple or anonymous partners.

"Rectal gonorrhea is asymptomatic 85% of the time. So we're really pushing that our partners do that extra genital testing, when individuals come in, even if it's for something other than sexual behavior, to ask those questions," she said.

Terlinde said testing is available for walk-in patients at the health department from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. Appointments can be made by calling (309) 679-6655.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.