Sexually transmitted disease rates are on the rise in Galveston County, according to data from the Galveston County Health District.
The county has seen a 44 percent increase in reported cases of chlamydia since 2007 and a 71 percent increase in reported gonorrhea cases since 2010.
HIV cases have fluctuated since 2007, but rates have consistently increased since 2011.
“I think there are more cases and the internet is pushing that,” said Jim Hilton, STD-HIV control services manager at the health district. “It’s easier to hook up now. You can get on the internet and set up a date for tomorrow.”
Chlamydia is by far the most frequently reported sexually transmitted disease in the county. Clinics around the county reported 1,579 chlamydia cases in 2016, compared to 1,092 cases in 2007, according to the data.
HIV cases have similarly risen since 2011, albeit in smaller numbers. The district counted 54 HIV cases in 2015, compared to 33 cases in 2011, the data showed.
The rise in yearly STD cases could likely be due to the county’s proximity to Houston, which is consistently ranked as having some of the highest STD rates in the state, Hilton said.
“Naturally, when we’ve got 35 miles in between, how many people go up here to party?” he said. “They leave the infection here.”
Young, gay, African-American males are infected with HIV at “alarming rates,” Hilton said. Other STDs, such as syphilis and chlamydia, are more evenly split between men and women, he said.
Many people don’t think getting an STD is possible because they’re in long-term relationships, but that’s not always the case, health district spokesman Scott Packard said.
“They hear about an increase in these type of diseases, and it goes in one ear and out the other,” Packard said. “People who are long-term dating or even married, there’s other partners going on the side. More people are at risk than actually think they are.”
Hilton and others at the county health district are tasked with preventive efforts, as well as tracking down the sexual partner who gave the patient an STD. If they can find the original partner, then they can try to stop that partner from spreading disease, Hilton said.
Tracking people is often difficult to do, as many people don’t know the names of their partners because they met them online, Hilton said.
Other times, even when a partner is found, they might not be receptive to taking the health district’s advice, because they’re purposefully spreading disease, Hilton said.
“It’s disheartening at times what we do, how we do it and what we’re seeing,” he said.
Eric Boykins, 48, of Texas City, has lived with HIV for almost eight years, and he’s spent much of that time helping the health district with its HIV prevention and awareness efforts. The HIV-positive community needs to be more proactive about sharing their stories, so they can get rid of the stigma that surrounds HIV, he said.
“Most of us who have HIV need to step up to the plate,” he said. “They’re scared to talk about it, scared about what people will say.”
Tamara, 30, of Galveston, went to the doctor in June 2015 and tested HIV-positive. Tamara, who asked that her last name not be used for privacy reasons, said people need to realize that HIV and STDs are active in the community.
“I’m pretty sure a lot of people in Galveston, Texas, Galveston County have it, but they’re not letting anybody know,” she said. “It’s out here, it’s real. I’m living proof.”