The founders of our first birth control clinic in San Antonio knew women needed more than diaphragms to ensure their sexual and reproductive health. By 1940, the clinic was providing Wassermanns — a blood test for syphilis named after the German bacteriologist who developed the test.
Syphilis is easily curable, but if left untreated, the STD can damage the brain, nerves, eyes, or heart. It can be transmitted to a fetus during pregnancy, which can cause stillbirth or severe, life-threatening problems in babies born with the disease.
In the early 20th century, syphilis was widespread, and there was no safe and effective treatment. A national STD control program that launched in the 1940s and the discovery that penicillin could effectively treat syphilis led to its decline.
But the country has seen periodic resurgences of the disease, including a sharp increase in the last few years. Syphilis rates in the U.S. increased by nearly 16% from 2016 to 2017. Texas had the fifth highest rate of syphilis in the country and the fourth highest rate of babies born with syphilis.
Most of the time, people don’t realize they have syphilis, which is why testing is so important. Planned Parenthood South Texas provided more than 3,000 syphilis tests in 2018. The test is performed on a blood sample from the patient. Patients who test positive are referred to the local health department for treatment. Staff also educates patients on the importance of using condoms to reduce risk of STDs such as syphilis.
Planned Parenthood South Texas has been providing gonorrhea testing for decades, with more than 7,000 patients tested in 2018. It’s one of the most common STDs. Most people with gonorrhea don’t have any symptoms, but untreated gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility, chronic pain or ectopic pregnancy.
Having gonorrhea also increases the chances of getting or spreading HIV. Babies can contract gonorrhea during birth, which can cause blindness, joint infections or blood infections.
Testing for and treating gonorrhea with antibiotics is simple and fast, but health authorities are worried that gonorrhea is becoming resistant to treatment. Currently, only one class of antibiotics is effective at treating this common infection; there is a real threat of untreatable gonorrhea in the future. In addition, there has been a sharp increase in gonorrhea in the United States in the last five years.
Planned Parenthood was the first clinic in San Antonio to begin testing for chlamydia in the mid-1980s.
Like gonorrhea, chlamydia is a very common STD that is easily cured with antibiotics. Also like gonorrhea, most people who have chlamydia don’t show any symptoms, but left untreated it can cause infertility, ectopic pregnancy and a higher risk for HIV. It can also cause problems in newborns. Cases of chlamydia have increased significantly in the United States in recent years.
Planned Parenthood South Texas ran more than 7,000 chlamydia tests in 2018.
In 1987, Planned Parenthood began offering free or low-cost HIV testing in communities around the country. In response to the epidemic, an HIV risk assessment evaluation process was included in all Planned Parenthood clinic visits in San Antonio. A new AIDS Testing and Outreach Program provided free, confidential and anonymous testing and counseling.
In addition, Planned Parenthood’s Minority AIDS Education program worked to reduce HIV among at-risk minority populations in San Antonio. Planned Parenthood’s peer education program worked with high school students to educate teens about the risk of HIV.
Planned Parenthood South Texas provides more than 3,500 HIV tests every year. In 2017, we began offering the HIV prevention strategy known as PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). PrEP involves taking a daily medication to reduce the risk of contracting HIV by more than 90 percent.
Planned Parenthood also tests for human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer and genital warts; trichomoniasis, an STD caused by a parasite; and herpes (oral and genital).
When the Zika virus began to surface in the United States, the Rio Grande Valley was at high risk. Promotoras with our Habla Con Tu Hermana community outreach program raised awareness of Zika as a sexually transmitted disease and educated the public on family planning as the primary strategy to reduce pregnancy-related Zika complications.
“Peace of mind” STD testing and treatment is available for all patients at all Planned Parenthood locations. For some STDs, we offer tests that deliver results at the time of the visit. We offer treatment for most STDs and provide referrals to the local health department for the others.
Planned Parenthood also helps stem the spread of STDs by educating patients on reducing the risk of transmission. Our promotoras educate community members about STD through group presentations, at health fairs and through other health outreach events.
Every year, we run tens of thousands of STD tests, and we are proud of our work in this important area of public health. STDs disproportionately affect people of color, and we work every day to reduce these disparities.
We provide STD testing, treatment and education with compassion and without judgement. Treating STDs spares fertility, prevents pregnancy complications and can even save lives.