July 17, 2003
"All it takes is introducing someone with HIV, and we'll have a fairly large outbreak on our hands," said Sarah Patrick, a contract epidemiologist for Indian Health Service. According to Patrick, the high number of STDs reported in American Indians in South Dakota indicates unhealthy behaviors that are ideal for spreading HIV.
A 2002 South Dakota Department of Health report showed Indians had 46 percent of the reported chlamydia cases and 48 percent of the reported gonorrhea cases in the state, even though they comprise only 8.3 percent of the state's total population. South Dakota's Indians are already disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, representing 13 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases, according to department statistics. Men ages 20 to 39 account for the majority of those cases.
Dave Morgan, STD program manager for the Department of Health, said the numbers are very concerning for the Indian population. Morgan said a high-risk lifestyle is probably the greatest factor for the higher numbers of Indians being diagnosed with STDs. Factors such as alcohol and drug use, multiple sex partners, unprotected sex, health care access and economic considerations play a part, said Morgan.
IHS mandates strong compliance with state STD reporting and is acutely aware of the need for STD screening, which may contribute to the high numbers. "With everything else considered, the rates are still higher in the Native American population," said Morgan. He said IHS reports every diagnosed STD. "With the private sector, I can't say that it is as complete," added Morgan.