The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta released a new study this week stating that as of 2008, there were 19.7 million people with sexually transmitted infections in the United States. Over one-third of the American population now carries an STI.

“We have about 500 STIs roughly every year in Missoula County,” said Missoula County infectious disease nurse Devon Robinson. “Each county in Montana has its own numbers, which are then reported to the state, which sends the total numbers to the CDC so they can get the total numbers for the U.S.”

"Each county in Montana has their own numbers, which are then reported to the state, which sends the total numbers to the CDC so they can get the total numbers for the U.S." Robinson said.

Robinson said sexually transmitted diseases include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV and hepatitis B, among other infections.

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When someone comes into the health department with a sexually transmitted infection they are asked to provide a list of all of their sexual contacts.

“Anonymously, we notify the sexual contacts that they’ve been exposed, and that they need to be tested and possibly treated, and then give them education on how not to be exposed again,” Robinson said.

Although patient privacy seems like an obvious concern in these situations Robinson said that with communicable diseases, providers are required by law to report them to us

“HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) doesn’t apply to communicable diseases,” Robinson said.

Law enforcement may actually enter the picture if and when someone is deemed to be deliberately spreading a sexually transmitted infection or communicable disease.

“If we find that someone has a disease that they are deliberately spreading we speak with our county health officer,” Robinson said. “If somebody had an active case of tuberculosis and refused treatment possibly putting others at risk, it’s the health officer’s duty to make sure they are not exposing others.”

At that point, Robinson said, the health officer could get law enforcement involved. The Missoula County Health Officer is director Ellen Leahy.

Robinson emphasized “that an action like that would be a last resort.”

“We’d get in there to do some education and prevention, and be the good guys,” Robinson said.

Missoula City County Infectious Disease Health Nurse Devon Robinson