Condom mailer program expanded amid rising teen STDs

Condom mailer program expanded amid rising teen STDs
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By Kathy Chouteau

Amid increasing STD rates among youth ages 15-19 in Contra Costa County and beyond, Essential Access Health’s Condom Access Project is expanding its free home mailer condom distribution program for County teens. The effort is part of a partnership with Contra Costa Health Services (CCHS).

As part of the Condom Access Project (CAP), Contra Costa County teens and young adults can sign up for the confidential delivery of free condoms to their homes as frequently as once per month. To date, the service has delivered more than 753,000 free condoms throughout eight California counties, including San Francisco and Alameda.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), Contra Costa ranked 14th among California counties in gonorrhea rates in 2018, including more than 2,000 local cases that year among people ages 15 to 24. In newly released 2018 data, Contra Costa also ranked 20th among California counties in chlamydia rates (3,400 cases) and 24th in syphilis rates.

Statewide in 2018, there were 41,758 cases of chlamydia and 7,000 cases of gonorrhea among males and females 15-19 years of age, representing 18 percent of all chlamydia cases and nearly 9 percent of all gonorrhea cases in California, per data from the California Department of Public Health, which aligns with the CDC’s data.

Nationwide, rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have also increased, disproportionately impacting Black and Latino youth, per CDC Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) data from 2018. More than 1.8 million cases of chlamydia were reported, a 19 percent increase since 2014 and the greatest number of cases for any condition ever reported to the CDC.

“We know that education and confidential access to condoms reduces the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy among young people who choose to have sex,” said Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County’s health officer. “Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis have been increasing dramatically in Contra Costa and across the nation in the past few years. Programs like CAP are critical for keeping teens and young adults in our community healthy and safe by removing barriers to accessing protection, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The pandemic has exacerbated rising STD rates, with clinic closures, testing shortages, and patient discomfort with in-person visits leading to spikes, according to Essential Access Health, underscoring the need to facilitate remote condom access and connection to STD prevention and treatment services.

“Condom use is one of the most effective interventions for stopping the spread of STDs, and removing cost and other barriers to access is an essential tool in the prevention toolbox and a step in the right direction for improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes among Contra Costa County youth,” said Sergio Morales, senior director of programs at Essential Access Health.

STDs can lead to long-term adverse health outcomes, including infertility and a higher likelihood of contracting HIV, according to Essential Access Health, which points to condoms as an effective method for preventing transmission of STDs and pregnancy.

Teens who wish to sign up for free condoms by mail can click here. CAP is made possible by CDC funding via the California Department of Public Health.