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There may never be a perfect time to talk about sexually transmitted diseases, but April, being Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness Month, is at least the next best thing to perfect: State health officials are encouraging people to talk about risks, get tested and to get treated.

That's because many STDs are easily treatable, but only if a patient knows they have the infection, according to Cindy Marucci-Bosley, the head of nursing at Carroll County Health Department. Symptoms are not always obvious, she said, and may not be present at all with infections such as chlamydia.

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"The big problem with chlamydia is that overwhelmingly, particularly with women, most people are completely asymptomatic," Marucci-Bosley said. "They can have chlamydia for a long time and not know it, and all that while, it can be causing fallopian tube damage, which can lead to infertility."

Gonorrhea, and syphilis are two other STDs that can be treated with antibiotics, according to Marucci-Bosley. They are also, along with chlamydia, increasingly common in Carroll.

"Our numbers in Carroll County are going up. From year to year, we do end up with more chlamydia or gonorrhea, and this year in particular, our syphilis numbers have gone up," Marucci-Bosley said.

In calendar year 2014, the Health Department recorded 278 cases of chlamydia, and in 2015, there were 329 cases, according to statistics provided by Marucci-Bosley. Gonorrhea cases went from 27 in 2014 to 32 in 2015 and syphilis cases went from five cases to eight, which despite the small numbers is still a 60 percent increase.

"It's not Baltimore City, but we are going up," Marucci-Bosley said.

Then there are viral diseases for which there are no cure, human papillomavirus [or HPV] herpes and HIV, according to Marucci-Bosley, the latter of which is still nothing to sneeze at, even though HIV — thanks to new treatments — can no be managed as a chronic disease.

"Anybody with HIV will tell you that you certainly don't want to have it," she said.

When it comes to STD's, complacency is the enemy, Marucci-Bosley said, and one should never assume that living in a particular place or the morals of a potential partner will protect them.

"The reality is that a lot of people that have it and are passing it on don't even know that they have it," she said. "Yes this is Carroll County, but we still do have STIs [sexually transmitted infections], and our borders are open and people travel back and forth to different places in the state and different places out of state; people need to make very good sexual health decisions."

Good sexual health decisions begin with using latex or polyurethane condoms consistently and correctly when sexually active outside of a monogamous relationship. They are available at the Health Department, according to Marucci-Bosley.

"We actually do have 'three for free,' there are condoms that are packaged in little unmarked envelopes and are sitting out in our lobby and anyone can take those and any time, no questions asked," she said. "There is an instruction sheet inside there. They don't even have to have face time with someone."

After condom use, the next component of good sexual health is talking about risk with partners, getting tested and then treated if necessary, especially when embarking on a new, monogamous relationship, according to Marucci-Bosley. Testing can be obtained through a primary care physician or through the Health Department's reproductive health services.

"I do have young couples coming in here to get tested together. They are getting ready to start a relationship and they come in to get tested. I think that's awesome," Marucci-Bosley said. "Young men come in and say, 'Well, you know, I'm starting a relationship and I want to make sure everything is OK,' and I'm like, 'Good for you dude! That's awesome.'"

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Carroll County Health Department Head of Nursing Cindy Marucci-Bosley recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website as a source for instructions for proper condom use available at: www.cdc.gov/condomeffectiveness/male-condom-use.html.

For more information or to make an appointment the Health Department's reproductive health services, call 410-876-4930.

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