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Increase in STDs a concern of new health commissioner

March 25, 2009
By MARY ANN GREIER, Staff Writer

LISBON - Unprotected sex and intravenous drug use can be blamed for causing 50 percent of the infectious diseases reported in Columbiana County, but one local health official said it doesn't have to be that way.

"If everybody engaged in safe sexual activities and didn't engage in illicit drug use, our disease burden would be cut in half," public health epidemiologist Michael Ruta said.

Ruta serves as epidemiologist for Columbiana, Carroll and Tuscarawas counties and prepared the 2008 End-Of-Year Infectious Disease Report for Columbiana County, a report he said shows that a majority of the diseases are easily preventable conditions just by people being more conscious about their health.

Chlamydia and Hepatitis C infections accounted for 50 percent of the 212 valid disease reports received by the Columbiana County Health Department in 2008, coming in at number one and number two on the list.

The number of chlamydia cases spiked from 56 in 2007 to 72 in 2008, a fact pointed out to Columbiana County General Health District Advisory Council members during their annual meeting Monday by new Columbiana County Health Department adminstrator/acting health commissioner Wesley J. Vins.

"We definitely want to address that," he said.

Ruta said he's still tabulating breakdowns on the sexually transmitted diseases, but he shared a few figures regarding chlamydia. Of the 72 cases reported, more than 80 percent were women and nearly 20 percent were men, which he said is typical because a large portion of men show no symptoms and "are unwittingly spreading it to their partners."

The average age of the patients affected was 23.31, with the ages ranging from 15 to 52 years old. Ruta said the age range in the majority of cases was between 16 and 31 years old.

Because it's so easily treatable with antibiotics, he said they tend to see repeat customers, but they want to educate people and target the affected population to reduce the numbers. Chlamydia can damage reproductive organs in women by causing complications which can lead to sterility.

"Young ladies don't realize the damage they could be doing to their systems," he said.

According to a fact sheet on the Centers for Disease Control Web site at, symptoms for women can include abnormal vaginal discharge or a burning sensation when urinating, lower abdominal pain, low back pain, nausea, fever, pain during intercourse, or bleeding between menstrual periods. Men might experience a discharge or a burning sensation when urinating. They can also experience burning and itching or swelling.

"Chlamydia can be transmitted during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Chlamydia can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby during vaginal childbirth," the fact sheet said.

Hospitals, medical centers, doctors and labs have to report any cases they have to the health department. The health department then conducts followup, asking the infected person for a list of their partners so they can be notified about getting tested and getting treatment if they're infected. Some refuse to give their list and some people contacted refuse to get tested.

Ruta said they can look at when symptoms started appearing to determine when the infection took place to narrow down the time frame . The incubation period is seven to 21 days after exposure.

Chlamydia cases create a burden on the public health system due to the followup required and the paperwork involved, he explained.

The number of Hepatitis C cases remained steady at 34 last year. There were 33 cases in 2007. Hepatitis C can be caused by intravenous drug use or unprotected sex.

"Those are both high risk health activities you don't have to do," Ruta said.

Syphillis remains in the report, with one case in 2008, although he said that number could be higher since some cases are reported directly to the state of Ohio. The number of cases has been increasing statewide, most notably in the Columbus area, he said.

Ruta made note of the fact that many of the diseases highlighted on the nightly news, such as E. coli and Salmonellosis, account for a small number of the cases in the report, with 2 E. coli cases and four Salmonellosis.

Copies of the infectious disease report are available at the health department on state Route 45 in Lisbon.

Mary Ann Greier can be reached at



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