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Military's STD rates like colleges'

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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FORT DRUM — Soldiers are just as likely as some civilians to contract and be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.


"For most Army posts, the STD rates are very equatable to a college university population," said Maj. Keith C. Palm, the chief of preventive medicine on Fort Drum. "It would be fairly similar."


Data released by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center found that the number of chlamydia cases on Fort Drum increased by 23, from 183 in 2007 to 210 in 2008. The number of gonorrhea cases declined by three, from 26 to 23, over the same time.


Maj. Palm said there is no way to estimate how many of the reported cases were male or female soldiers.


Armywide, the number of chlamydia cases increased by 1,397, from 10,642 in 2007 to 12,039 in 2008. The number of gonorrhea cases throughout the Army increased by 167, from 1,891 in 2007 to 2,058 in 2008.


Contrary to what post officials said is a popular belief, not all soldiers are given mandatory STD tests.


"One of the myths that I hear all the time is that all soldiers are tested for STDs," said Charlene M. Fix, the disease intervention specialist and head of the epidemiology program at Fort Drum. "And that is just not true."


She said all soldiers are tested for HIV before and after each deployment. Female soldiers, just like women in the civilian population, are tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia during yearly gynecological exams. But male soldiers are not.


"We don't routinely test for gonorrhea and chlamydia in men, unless they request it. It's just not something we do automatically," Maj. Palm said. "There probably won't be a change in mandatory testing. There have been studies at certain posts with urine tests, but that wasn't found to be overly effective."


Instead, most Army installations focus on education. When a soldier first arrives at Fort Drum, he or she is given a briefing on soldier responsibility. Mrs. Fix, who instructs the soldier responsibility brief, said she talks about the difference between the curable STDs — such as gonorrhea and chlamydia — and the incurable ones — such as human papillomavirus or HIV.


Maj. Palm and Mrs. Fix both said there are certain times when soldiers are more susceptible to contracting STDs, like before or after a deployment when soldiers are more likely to take part in risky behaviors.


"It's an interesting population because when they return from deployment they go on 30 days of leave and they go all over the country and come back to Drum," said Maj. Palm. "Not all the STDs we have here are acquired here."

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