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L.A. County launches new campaign against sexually transmitted diseases

June 11, 2009 |  7:01 am

Concerned about the rate of sexually transmitted infections among young women, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is offering free in-home testing kits through a new mail-in service.

The program is aimed primarily at black and Latina women below the age of 25, who make up a disproportionate number of those infected, said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, who directs the county health department.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea often have no symptoms. But left untreated, they can cause serious long-term problems such as pelvic inflammatory disease and damage to reproductive organs.

“There is no longer any reason for any young women in Los Angeles County to become infertile, suffer chronic pain or deal with a life-threatening tubal pregnancy because of these two STDs,” Fielding said in a statement announcing the program.

The number of chlamydia infections in the county has been rising steadily since 1996, according to figures collected by the Los Angeles County Sexually Transmitted Disease Program. The disease now accounts for three out of every four STDs reported in the county. Last year, the program recorded 43,431 cases of chlamydia among men and women and 8,415 cases of gonorrhea.

Women who are sexually active are encouraged to test for both diseases at least once a year. But Fielding said many do not. For some, barriers such as cost, time and transportation may be a factor.  Others may be worried about the reaction they will get if they ask for a test.

The new program uses technology familiar to younger women to try to remove those barriers, Fielding said by telephone. Women of any age can use the service, but parental consent is required for girls younger than 12.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky praised the program for its “innovative” and “cost-effective” approach. "In today's economy, when the public rightly expects us to tighten our belts and do more with less, our Department of Public Health deserves a lot of credit for thinking outside the box in its efforts to modernize our healthcare delivery system," Yaroslavsky said.

Women can order tests for chlamydia and gonorrhea through the “Don’t Think Know Home Test Kit" website or by calling (800) 758-0880, officials said today. The tests will be sent to their homes to be take n in private and the results will be processed by the Public Health Laboratory. A cellphone text message will then be sent to remind the women to collect the results online or by phone one week later.

-- Alexandra Zavis