Health Education and Promotion

Communicable Diseases, HIV and STIs/STDs

What are Communicable Diseases, STI/STDs and HIV?

A communicable disease is one that is spread from one person to another through a variety of ways that include: contact with blood and bodily fluids; breathing in an airborne virus; or by being bitten by an insect. Communicable diseases include Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections, HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Tuberculosis.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are caused by infections that are passed from one person to another during sexual contact. These infections often do not cause any symptoms. Medically, infections are only called diseases when they cause symptoms. Therefore, STIs are also called "sexually transmitted diseases". Some examples of STIs are chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, and HIV. Sexually transmitted infections affect people of all ages, backgrounds, and from all walks of life. More than half of all of us will get one at some time in our lives.

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is primarily spread by contact with infected blood, through unprotected sex with an infected person or to a baby through breast milk from an infected person. The virus attacks and breaks down the body’s immune system, the part of the body that works to fight off infection and disease. HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), which often times leads to death.

Why is this a focus of Kent County Health Department (KCHD)?

Communicable diseases are a major public health problem in Kent County and the state of Michigan. Here are some important statistics that help illustrate the problem:

STIs are a major public health problem and affects young people more than any other age group. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  • On any given day, it is estimated that 1 in 5 people have an Sexually Transmitted Infection.
  • About half of all Sexually Transmitted Infections occur among youth ages 15-24 years.
  • 2019 was the sixth year in a row in which increases were seen in all three nationally reported STDs (Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis).
  • Young people aged 13 to 24 are especially affected by HIV. In 2018, young people accounted for 21% of all new HIV diagnoses.
According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services:
  • There are an estimated 1,110 people living in Kent County who are infected with HIV.
  • 1 out of 8 people infected with HIV do not know they are infected. Nearly 1/3 of the transmissions in the United States come from those who do not know they are infected.
  • Alcohol and other drugs can lower a person’s inhibitions and create risk factors for HIV, STI and Viral Hepatitis transmission. Vulnerable populations (people living in poverty, those who are mentally ill, and those with a history of abuse) are more likely to have high rates of alcohol and substance use.
  • In addition to increasing the risk of HIV transmission, substance use can affect people’s overall health and make them more susceptible to HIV infection. In those already infected with HIV, substance use can hasten disease progression and negatively affect adherence to treatment.
  • Injection drug users (IDU) account for 13% of HIV in the US.
  • The primary modes of HIV transmission in the HIV/Hepatitis C co- infection (having both diseases) group were IDU at 35.0%, MSM (Men who have sex with men) at 30.0% and heterosexual contact 15.0%.
  • Injection drug use in 18–29-year-olds was reported in 87.2% of hepatitis C patients. From 2004-2014, the number of cases of chronic hepatitis C among persons aged 18 -29 years has increased over 484%. Deaths due to acute and chronic hepatitis C alone increased by 116% between 2003 and 2012.
According to the Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth (MiPHY):
  • Among Kent County high school students taking the MiPHY, only 62 % of students who had sexual intercourse during the past three months used a condom during last sexual intercourse.

How is KCHD addressing this issue?

KCHD provides prevention education and risk-reduction classes on various communicable diseases focusing on young people that are considered high risk for communicable diseases. These include those who are homeless, living in residential treatment facilities and those in the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center and the Kent County Correctional Facility.

Communicable Disease Prevention and Risk Reduction initiatives offered by KCHD


Presentations vary based on the needs of the audience. Agencies and other providers may schedule group educational classes to fit the needs of their clients.

Lessons are available on the following topics:

  • What is a Communicable Disease?
  • Hepatitis C
  • Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis and Trichomoniasis
  • MRSA and Ringworm
  • Crabs and Scabies
  • Herpes and Human Papilloma Virus
STI Testing
Contact For More Information

Aaron Toffoli |

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