Clackamas County Health Officials Go Out In Public To Find STD-Positive Sex Partners

Clackamas County Health Officials Go Out In Public To Find STD-Positive Sex Partners

How are pub­lic health offi­cials in Clacka­mas Coun­ty, Ore­gon respond­ing to the rash and rise of sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted diseases?

They’ve decid­ed to ask peo­ple with an STD to name their sex­u­al part­ners to track them down, and this task has been giv­en to two women – Liza Baca, a dis­ease inter­ven­tion spe­cial­ist, and Mary Hor­man, a reg­is­tered nurse. Most of the work is done by phone, let­ting part­ners know that some­one they slept with has test­ed pos­i­tive for an STD (no names are giv­en) and they should be test­ed as well.

Since some peo­ple can’t be reached by phone, the pair have to go out in the pub­lic and knock on doors.

Baca said this can be a bit ter­ri­fy­ing, espe­cial­ly in rur­al areas where they need to rely on the GPS and its direc­tions can get you lost. The women said they have yet to get lost.

Baca also said many of the county’s out­skirt res­i­dents own firearms and will show them off to pro­tect their prop­er­ty. When going to a home in the area, she makes her­self vis­i­ble and doesn’t fid­get. She tries to be as warm­ing as she can, by say­ing who she is and where she is from and lets them know she has a nurse with her.

The women nev­er go into a home and do keep a cell phone on them at all times.

In one instance, the pair left with­out inform­ing a part­ner about a pos­si­ble STD infec­tion, as they were at a trail­er park and a dog was charg­ing at them. They also had no idea which door to knock on, and couldn’t do ran­dom knocks due to privacy.

They also reached out to anoth­er per­son, a 64-year-old male by the name of Lar­ry, to talk to him about STDs. The pair explain to him about how some dis­eases such as syphilis had to be report­ed, which is why they were talk­ing to him. Accord­ing to Lar­ry, he had peni­cillin giv­en to him intra­venous­ly and was heal­ing fine.

Come to find out, through their con­ver­sa­tions, that Lar­ry had been infect­ed with syphilis for 10 years and nev­er knew it.

This isn’t uncom­mon, unfor­tu­nate­ly. Many syphilis suf­fer­ers don’t have any out­ward symp­toms, which means they can car­ry the bac­te­ria and spread it but nev­er have symp­toms of it.

There was a time that syphilis was near­ly erad­i­cat­ed in the U.S., and for that rea­son, many young doc­tors don’t know what the signs and symp­toms of the dis­ease are.

Lar­ry said many of his sex part­ners were found on Craigslist and he doesn’t remem­ber their names.

Baca said, despite too much time hav­ing passed, she didn’t feel her time was wast­ed. She said they were cer­tain peo­ple where you know pub­lic health inter­ven­tion is a necessity.

Nation­al Coali­tion of STD Direc­tors Exec­u­tive Direc­tor David Har­vey said the work that field­work­ers such as Hor­man and Baca are doing is impor­tant. He said they can help peo­ple get the care they need once they find and inform them.

Har­vey said about 1,400 dis­ease inter­ven­tion spe­cial­ists are work­ing in the U.S. This is down from the pre­vi­ous 4,000 workers.

Focus­ing On High-Risk Groups

Baca said she wants to focus on the high-risk pop­u­la­tions such as gay men and preg­nant women.

Dr. Sarah Present, a coun­ty pub­lic health offi­cer, said new­borns with con­gen­i­tal syphilis can suf­fer major neu­ro­log­i­cal com­pli­ca­tions and pos­si­bly die. She said there are mul­ti­ple con­gen­i­tal syphilis cas­es in the U.S. today, com­pared to a decade ago.

This is why Clacka­mas Coun­ty health offi­cials are ded­i­cat­ing a pletho­ra of resources to find part­ners and encour­age them to get test­ed. It’s imper­a­tive, she said, for the first per­son to be diag­nosed with an STD tell offi­cials who their part­ner was to stem the rise in STD infections.


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