Forest Park has one of the highest rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis infections in all of suburban Cook County, according to data recently released by the Cook County Department of Public Health.
The high rates were so concerning to county health officials that the department convened a roundtable to discuss the problem and ways to bring the rate down, particularly among teens and young adults, at the Maywood Park District on Oct. 25.
Around 22 representatives from 13 different agencies from a range of sectors, including healthcare, government, education, faith-based and workforce development, attended the discussion.
The data was included in the Annual Sexually Transmitted Infections Surveillance Report that the department released in June 2018. The report, which comes out every two years, is based on cases from 2014 to 2016.
Forest Park had between 490 and 883 reported cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people, according to the report. The 2016 chlamydia rate for all of suburban Cook County during that period was 461 per 100,000.
The village had between 97 and 237 cases of gonorrhea per 100,000 in 2016. That year, the gonorrhea rate for all of suburban Cook County was 113 per 100,000. Forest Park also had at least 18 cases of primary- and secondary-stage syphilis — double the average rate across suburban Cook County.
During the Oct. 25 meeting, county health officials said that chlamydia is the most frequently reported infectious disease in the country.
"In 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the chlamydia rates (per 100,000) were 529 nationally," health officials explained in a statement released this week. "They were 588.6 in Illinois, and 494.8 in" suburban Cook County.
During the roundtable discussion, county health officials said that gonorrhea "is the second most frequently reported infectious disease in the U.S. According to the CDC, gonorrhea rates (per 100,000) were 172 nationally, 186 in Illinois, and 129.4 in [suburban Cook County]."
Damian Christiansen, the health department's director of communicable disease prevention and control, said that bringing the rates down requires a variety of actions.
"By working together, we hope to raise awareness, increase testing and treatment for chlamydia, gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted infections, and empower everyone to have excellent sexual health," he said.
Those in attendance honed in on a variety of concrete solutions to addressing the infection rates, including providing age-appropriate sex education in schools, reducing the fear and stigma related to sex and testing "in a supportive and non-judgmental way" and encouraging people who are sexually active to get treated and tell others about treatment.
Christiansen said that in order to reduce the number of sexually transmitted infections, "we all need to work together – health departments, health care providers, parents, and everyone who is sexually active. Don't guess. Get a test."
Anyone who is sexually active can get STIs. If you are sexually active, CCDPH urges you to:
GET TESTED | Most STIs do not have symptoms. Find a testing site near you here.
GET TREATED | Chlamydia and gonorrhea can be treated with the right doses of the right antibiotics. Your provider may be able to give you medications to give your partner as well.
USE CONDOMS | Use condoms the right way every time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex including hookups arranged through an app. Request condoms from CCDPH online here.
CALL COOK COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH | Call 708-836-8637 if you need help notifying partners. If you receive a call from the health department, answer or return the call in case a partner is trying to notify you of an STI.