High rates of Kern County infection should spur students to get tested

James Macias, Features Editor

Sexually Transmitted Diseases are the single biggest threat to a young person here in Kern County today. That might seem like an exaggeration but it’s a direct paraphrase of something said by Ray Purcell, BC’s director of Student Health and Wellness.

Purcell, 60, is a nurse practitioner of 20 years, Bakersfield resident and graduate of UCLA. Purcell takes you seriously, he projects a mental probe at you with his eyes and he seems to be calm enough to ride out a nuclear blast without losing his cool.

He talks about STDs with a certain sense of fear though, especially syphillis, chlamydia and gonorrhea. He grimly reads statistics from his computer screens like a slow drumroll making the numbers sound like a body count.

He goes so far as to draw a couple of graphs. “We here in California have hit what mathematicians call a ‘J point’ which is a point at which the incident of infections sharply increases,” he said.

“Let’s talk about syphillis: symptoms only show up in 10% of cases so 90 percent of the infected population don’t know it! Can’t know it!,” he said, with more emotion than anything else he has said.

“Syphillis is most concerning because over time it doesn’t go away; in fact, it sticks around and causes organ disease and other forms of damage to the central nervous system. The real tragedy is that you cannot repair the damage once it’s done, however if caught early enough, all three of these diseases are easily treatable,” he said.

Kern County Department of Public Health has started a new campaign to raise awareness about STDs. Kern County’s efforts are still being kept under wraps as they scramble to create new materials. A very recent change in the statewide statistics dropping Kern County from the number one position to the number three in terms of infection rates, has left everyone flatfooted as they struggle to provide accurate information to the public. No one at the Kern County Department of Public Health could be reached directly for comment at this time.

Some BC students were hesitant to talk about their testing, but not Doc Powers, 19. “It hasn’t fallen off yet, so I guess I’m good,” he said.

Among 20 students who were spoken to, about half of them said they test regularly while the other half suggested that they are monogamous in one way or another.

Purcell points out how serious things are. “The problem is undiagnosed infections! I see what could be undiagnosed symptoms all the time right here on campus and that means that there are a vast majority of non-symptomatic cases slipping by every day,” he said.

“Get tested! It’s so simple! Just urine and blood tests are all it takes for most STDs.”