Subscribe

CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — A program that officials said put a dent in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among U.S. soldiers in South Korea is running out of money.

Two years ago, 8th Army began testing incoming personnel for chlamydia and gonorrhea.

That led to a jaw-dropping increase in the number of STDs found among South Korea-based U.S. soldiers: a roughly 40 percent jump since 2007. Army officials said the numbers were not evidence of a worsening problem, but rather of a successful screening program that has identified carriers, particularly of chlamydia, who might not otherwise have known they were candidates to infect others.

“Bottom line ... we do not believe there is an increase in STDs among our soldiers,” 8th Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jeff Buczkowski said. “If you test more, you find more. The increase is not due to more cases, but to better screening.”

However, funding for that testing program ends this month, and starting next year only those with symptoms, or women who meet certain criteria, will be screened for STDs.

Col. Bill Corr, 8th Army Command surgeon, said the goal of the testing program has been to identify carriers of the disease and treat it before it could be spread to others. If someone is found with an STD, that person’s sexual partners are alerted that they need to be tested.

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Corr said that half the men and up to 75 percent of the women with the disease show no symptoms.

Chlamydia can lead to painful urination and a pus-like discharge. For women, the disease — if left untreated — can cause problems with pregnancies and even result in infertility. If caught early, the disease can be treated relatively simply with antibiotics.

The 8th Army program originally tested all female soldiers coming into the country for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Incoming men were eventually added to the testing program. The testing is estimated to cost about $400,000 a year, 18th Medical Command officials said last year.

Statistics for the 8th Army — which include about 18,000 of the 28,500 U.S. servicemembers serving in South Korea — show the number of chlamydia cases jumped from 490 in 2007, to 693 in 2008 and 739 for the first 10 months of this year. That’s more than a 50 percent increase over the past two years.

Overall, when the much less common instances of gonorrhea and syphilis are factored in, the number of STDs increased from 555 in 2007 to 775 so far this year, a 40 percent spike.

Asked if he was disappointed that the testing will no longer be required now that the funding is drying up, Corr pointed out that women will still be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea during their annual “well women exams” if they meet the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force criteria for such screening — sexually active young women who are not pregnant.

The task force, he said, recommends that group because they are most susceptible to the diseases.

“Although typically a nuisance, and they sometimes cause very serious complications, chlamydia and gonorrhea have negligible impact on the ability for 8th Army forces to ‘fight tonight,’ ” he said.

Corr said chlamydia is no more or less of a problem for soldiers than it is for civilians in the 18 to 26 age group, with an incidence rate of about 4 percent.


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up