According to new research Black women are being tested more for sexually transmitted diseases than women of other races:
When young women visit the emergency room complaining of symptoms that mirror those of a sexually transmitted disease, many aren’t tested for a possible infection — unless the young woman happens to be African-American, that is, provocative new research shows. Uninsured young women often rely on emergency rooms as their main source of medical care, and missing an STD diagnosis could have severe consequences for them and their sexual partners, say doctors who conducted two separate studies recently presented at a meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies. Untreated conditions such as chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility, as well as undermine public health efforts.
However, young African-American women and girls who show up in the ER are far more likely to have their sexual histories taken and to be tested for STDs than young Caucasian women and girls, researchers say. (Researchers did not specifically study rates of STD testing in Hispanic or Asian young women.)
Dr. Carolyn K. Holland, a pediatric emergency room specialist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, studied the hospital’s records of 293 patients aged 13 to 21 with abdominal, urinary or gynecological symptoms that could indicate an STD. The records, from 2010, revealed that 71.3 percent of young black women were tested, compared to only 18.6 percent of young Caucasian women.
Overall, young black women had a 2.6 times greater chance of having their sexual history documented on medical records. Of those who said they were sexually active, 87 percent were tested for STDs, but only 58 percent of young Caucasian women who said they had sex were tested. Even young black women who said they did not have sex were tested, and at far higher rates than whites: 30 percent compared to 2 percent.
The disparities are “troubling,” Holland told msnbc.com. Any bias, even if unconscious — in this case, the presumption that young black women are more promiscuous than whites or more likely to lie about sex — can cause doctors to miss a diagnosis. “Everybody should have their sexual history collected,” Holland said. “My practice now is that if you are sexually active and come in with a complaint — urinary, vaginal — yes, I am testing you.”
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that sexually active young people be tested for STDs every six months.
Yet, Holland said, “many do not have primary care doctors; an ER visit might be the only time they can get tested.”