Hydro Racing

Risky business: Mid-Columbia clinics see increase of STI tests after Follies weekend

Flying down the Columbia River at 150 mph in a hydroplane can be risky and sometimes dangerous, but health officials say some people are taking risks off the river.

A more family-friendly affair has replaced Water Follies events of the past, which often included nudity, heavy drinking alongside the river and violence.

But lowered inhibitions and unsafe behaviors caused by drinking during Follies weekend still are prevalent based on the increased demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections typically seen after the races, officials said.

Testing for sexually transmitted infections the week after Water Follies last year more than doubled compared with an average week at Kennewick's Planned Parenthood clinic, said Brian Griffith, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood of Central Washington.

The clinic usually tests about 17 patients a week for disease but tested 36 the week after last year's Follies, he said.

And about 200 more doses of emergency contraception than typical weeks -- about 700 doses are distributed in a normal week -- were dispensed the week following the event, Griffith said.

"The (STI) and the Plan B (emergency contraception) numbers are pretty telling," Griffith said "Definitely it's a concern that people are making choices that later they are concerned having made."

Many patients who sought the clinic's services linked the need for emergency contraception or testing to events surrounding Water Follies, Griffith said.

The increased demand for testing isn't a recent phenomenon. Dr. Larry Jecha, officer for the Benton-Franklin Health District, said the need for testing has always grown the week after boat races.

"It even used to be worse when there wasn't controlled drinking," he said.

People need to make a plan to protect themselves, Griffith said.

"If people choose to enjoy alcoholic beverages, they should abstain from sex," he said. "It's just smarter that way."

And if people choose to have sex, they should plan in advance to have birth control, condoms or other contraception handy.

"If they make it all the way to step three (sex without protection), our doors are always open," Griffith said.