Alachua County is ranked fourth highest in the state for STDs with 8,452 reported cases since 2008, according to the Florida Department of Health.
During the past five years, 75 percent of new cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea in Alachua County were reported among people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Bobby Davis, HIV and AIDs coordinator for the Alachua County Department of Health, said being in an area with such a large amount of young people and a major university is only part of the problem for Alachua County.
“It’s the prime sexually active reproductive years. That’s when people look the best, that’s when they have their sex,” he said.
Davis said the dangers of STDs are real and compared them to cigarette smoking and driving without a seat belt.
When an STD infection does happen, he added, some people don’t even know.
“A lot of the sexually transmitted diseases don’t have symptoms so they don’t think they’re infected,” Davis said.
He said there are many reasons why a high school student, in particular, might be hesitant to get tested for STDs, such as social stigma, transportation or parents finding out their kids are sexually active.
The health department is working closely with the Alachua County school system on a number of projects to inform people about these diseases, Davis said. One program is the Peer Advocates for Unified Services in Education, or PAUSE.
PAUSE trains peer advocates to provide current information and community resources about issues such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and other health topics.
“We do know that some teenagers — most teenagers — get their health information from their peers,” Davis said, “so they’ll go to them and say, ‘Girl, I don’t know what happened last night, we ended up having sex, I think I might have an STD, where do I go?’”
He said these advocates are trained to advise friends to head down to the health department.
The Job Corps of Gainesville now implements monthly STD training, and Unity Temple in Williston is teaching abstinence and comprehensive education at Eastside and Lincoln High School.
There are also presentations at University of Florida dorms and throughout the community.
Catherine Seemann, communications coordinator at UF’s Student Health Care Center, encourages young people to seek out all available resources.
“It may be awkward, it may be weird, it might even be offensive for you on a face level, but really everything that our medical providers are asking and doing ultimately is to help you,” Seemann said.
Alachua County STD Consultation group will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Alachua County Health Department.