A pair of dramatic statistics should act as a wake-up call for anyone who is young and sexually active -- or who loves someone who is.
Health officials say half of all sexually active people in the state will grapple with a sexually transmitted disease by the age of 25, as rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis soar around the country.
Left undiagnosed, these diseases put others at risk and often lead to a host of related health problems such as infertility.
Meanwhile, roughly 37,000 people in New Jersey are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and one in eight of them don't know they're carrying the disease.
Make that one in two under the age of 24.
The alarming statistics certainly made the state Department of Health sit up and pay attention, and officials are turning to social media in a campaign designed to raise awareness of the plague, encourage residents to get tested, and help link patients with the proper treatments -- or, better yet, the proper preventive measures.
#Teens: Protect yourself -- get the facts about #STDs with this info: https://t.co/umqqy34W8J #KnowTheFactsFirst pic.twitter.com/E066IF12bi-- CDC STD (@CDCSTD) January 10, 2017
In addition, the department has added search tools to its website to readily connect users with the appropriate services, and has sent educational materials to public health agencies throughout the state.
The public health campaign, which piggybacks the national Centers for Disease Controls STD awareness campaign, comes at an urgent time.
As NJSpotlight reports, the rate of STDs is on the increase nationwide, even as the Garden State is seeing a higher incidence of HIV diagnoses than neighboring states.
"Our hope is that (this reality) will encourage health-care providers, parents and educators to talk frankly and openly to adolescents about how they can get STDs and how to prevent them," said Doona Leusner, Department of Health communications director.
Amen to that.
The key to all of this is the prevention piece, which is highlighting in campaigns on Facebook and Twitter.
The outreach program is spreading the word about PrEP services -- short for pre-exposure prophylaxis -- a treatment approved by the federal government in 2012 to protect users against HIV. The potentially life-saving treatment pairs a daily dose of medicine with education and screening; trials have shown that it can cut HIV transmission in half.
Last year, the state kicked off a pilot program to coordinate PrEP services in hard-hit communities. The program was later expanded to include hospitals, federally qualified health centers and other facilities.
Nonprofit such as Planned Parenthood are also helping to promote access to these services -- all the more reason to encourage lawmakers to support these efforts.
Doctors, too, have a critical role to play. Health Commissioner Cathleen D. Bennett reminds physicians to make HIV or STD screening a part of a routine physical exam.
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