FORT POLK, La. –
Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital Department of Public Health is celebrating September Sexual Health Month by sharing information to keep Soldiers and their partners free of sexually transmitted infections and resources for prevention measures.
April Draper-Davis, nurse practitioner and chief of occupational health said reduced access to primary care and preventive services during the COVID-19 lock down have resulted in increased cases of HIV and syphilis.
“Louisiana is ranked 4th in the nation for HIV case rates,” she said. “Men under 30 years old who have sex with other men are at the highest risk.”
The Department of Defense estimates roughly 2,000 service members are HIV positive, 350 being newly diagnosed each year. The Defense Health Agency (DHA) reports in the U.S. Army, from January 2020 through June 2021, 496,166 soldiers were tested for HIV and 108 were identified as HIV positive. Following state and national trends African American males were diagnosed with HIV at higher rates than the rest of the population.
Draper-Davis said HIV and syphilis can be prevented with safe sex practices.
“Getting tested on a regular basis, especially prior to becoming sexual active with any new partners and encouraging the partner to get tested too will stop transmission in those who have no symptoms,” she said. “If you are considered at high risk for HIV infection, there is HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) where you take a daily medication or injection every two months to reduce your risk of contracting HIV.”
Draper-Davis said the Fort Polk Department of Public Health has walk-in clinic hours in building 3515 from 0800-0930 or by appointment at 337-531-6131.
STIs are NOT spread through air, water, food, or activities such as shaking hands, hugging, or touching surfaces and objects such as telephones, door knobs, and toilet seats.
STIs are spread through the exchange of infected body fluids from —
• ANY intimate or sexual contact, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex, and sex toys
• Direct blood contact through sharing of needles, syringes, or razors or unclean tattoo or body piercing equipment
• Mother to baby during pregnancy or delivery, and HIV through breast milk
Risky situations that increase the chance of contracting an STI include —
• Inconsistent condom use (oral, vaginal, anal)
• Multiple sexual partners
• One night stands, “hook ups”
• Soliciting sex
• Sharing razors, needles
• Tattooing and piercing from risky sources
• Being under the influence of illegal substances or alcohol
What can you do?
• The following are ways for you to Respect and Protect yourself and others. It’s a Soldier’s duty, and your life or your loved ones may depend on it.
• Get tested as often as your health provider suggests for your situation and get treatment if needed
• Get the HPV and hepatitis B vaccines as indicated by your provider
• Abstain or wait to have intimate contact with a partner
• Be in a mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner
• Reduce your number of partners and high risk situations
Use a condom correctly EVERY time and don’t use or agree to “condom excuses”
• “I’m clean and my partner looks clean.”
• “My partner didn’t want to use a condom.”
• “We don’t need condoms since I’m/you’re on the pill.”
• “They don’t fit right.”
• “They always break.”
• “They’re too much trouble & make things messy & might come off.”
• “You can’t feel anything with one of those on.”
• “I just got a negative STI or HIV test.”
Toni Pritchard, public health nurse at BJACH said Soldiers with questions about where to find free condoms, STI testing, or treatment, are encouraged visit the Fort Polk Public Health Department in building 3515 or contact their medical provider.
“There is absolutely no shame in being responsible about sex,” she said.
Editor’s Note: For more information on sexually transmitted infections visit https://www.cdc.gov/std/default.htm