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Coalition to launch initiative to prevent chlamydia

WILLMAR -- A Kandiyohi County coalition focused on healthy teen sexuality is turning to the public this fall to help craft a community plan that fosters adolescent health.

One of the main goals is to reduce the local incidence of chlamydia, a sexually transmitted infection that has soared to epidemic proportions in Minnesota in recent years.

The first in a series of public meetings will be Monday. Organizers hope to end up with a strategy that can be carried out over at least the next three years.

"We'd like to have a plan that really comes from the community, has a community voice and community support and is well-balanced," said Deb Schmitzerle, coordinator with Kandiyohi County Public Health of the Coalition for Healthy Adolescent Sexuality.

The initial meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Lakeland Auditorium on the lower level of the Lakeland Health Center building in Willmar.

Meetings will be at 6:30 p.m. the following four Mondays, Oct. 8, Oct. 15, Oct. 22 and Oct. 29, in the Rice Auditorium on the lower level of the Lakeland Health Center.

"We do want anyone in the community who has an interest to know about it," Schmitzerle said.

Surveys suggest that sexual activity is occurring less often among American adolescents and that more teens are delaying the start of sexual activity. But chlamydia rates are moving in the opposite direction.

Chlamydia is now the leading infectious disease reported in Minnesota -- nearly 17,000 in 2011, a record number. Almost three-fourths of cases were in teens and young adults aged 15 to 24. Rates in Kandiyohi County are among some of the highest in the state.

Although it's readily treatable, as many as 75 percent of females and 50 percent of males with the infection go undiagnosed because symptoms often are not evident. Left untreated, chlamydia can unknowingly be spread to other partners and result in infertility, ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain. Infected women also can pass the infection to their newborn child, causing premature delivery, infant pneumonia and eye infections that may lead to blindness.

The Kandiyohi County Coalition for Healthy Adolescent Sexuality began working in 2010 with the Minnesota Chlamydia Partnership. More recently, the group also began working with the Minnesota Department of Health to not only reduce the incidence of chlamydia but to promote overall healthy behavior among teens and young adults.

"We are concerned about teens getting pregnant and we are concerned about sexually transmitted diseases," Schmitzerle said. "But we're really concerned about all teens and healthy sexuality. Is there something we can do as a community to support young people to be healthy?"

Chlamydia is a main focus because it's something that can be measured, she said.

But members of the coalition want to take a broad approach that includes social factors and the attitudes and belief systems that help shape health, decisions and behavior.

One of the recommendations issued by the Minnesota Chlamydia Partnership is to use youth development as a chlamydia prevention strategy. The partnership also has called for more widespread chlamydia screening, especially among young women, and a greater emphasis on public health involvement and public policies that promote sexual health among teens and young adults.

A goal of the planning process this coming month will be to test how some of these strategies work at the local level, Schmitzerle said. "That's what we're hoping to do -- to look at some of these ideas."

The issue is "very sensitive," she acknowledged. "These conversations start young and need to continue."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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