STD cases on the rise in Minnesota, St. Louis CountySexually transmitted diseases have reached historically high levels in Minnesota, a state epidemiologist said on Thursday.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Sexually transmitted diseases have reached historically high levels in Minnesota, a state epidemiologist said on Thursday.
In an annual report, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 21,465 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in 2012, up from 19,547 in 2011 and 18,009 cases in 2010. The total number from 2012 is the highest yet reported, the health department’s Kristin Ehresmann said.
The number of syphilis cases actually declined by 8 percent, the health department reported, but chlamydia cases were up 7 percent and gonorrhea cases up 35 percent.
Chlamydia was the most common infectious disease in the state last year, Ehresmann said, and gonorrhea would have been second except for an unusual outbreak of whooping cough.
That’s no surprise, said Dr. Linda Van Etta, infectious disease specialist at St. Luke’s hospital. The number of gonorrhea cases in the St. Luke’s system nearly tripled between 2011 and 2012, from 14 cases to 40, she said.
St. Louis County reported 750 chlamydia cases in 2012 — a rate of 375 per 100,000 people — and 117 gonorrhea cases. Just three years ago, St. Louis County was enjoying a decline in STDs. The number of chlamydia cases in the county was 475 in 2009 and the number of gonorrhea cases was 47, both down from the year before.
What’s going wrong?
“Clearly we still have a problem on our hands despite trying to get the word out,” said Dr. Kevin Stephan, an infectious disease specialist for Essentia Health.
Efforts to educate people about STDs don’t seem to pay off, Van Etta said.
“There hasn’t ever been a sexually transmitted disease in the history of mankind that’s ever been controlled through education,” she said.
But Stephan said he thinks there isn’t enough education relative to the need. For each of the past six years, he has spoken about STDs to the freshman health class at Marshall School, and students’ questions reveal frequent misperceptions, he said.
Those students are in the age group — 15- to 24-year-olds — who have the majority of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases in Minnesota, the health department said.
Teens and young adults often have an “air of invincibility” that makes them unconcerned about sexually risky behavior, Stephan said. But STDs don’t always display symptoms, Stephan said, and left untreated can lead to infertility and other long-term health problems.
The only way to be certain is to be tested, the health department says. But that message is often ignored.
“If we don’t get people tested and then treated and then, in fact, having their partners treated, then you really have the potential to keep things spreading,” Ehresmann said.
The number of gonorrhea cases may be up, in part, because there is no longer any effective pill to treat it, both Van Etta and Stephan said. There is one shot that’s still effective, but Stephan said there’s concern that gonorrhea will develop a resistance to that treatment as well.
Since May 2008, Minnesota has allowed “expedited partner therapy,” which means doctors can prescribe medication for people with STDs and for their sexual partners. But that doesn’t help when the only possible treatment is a shot.
The good news is the decrease in syphilis cases. Ehresmann attributed that to a “cutting edge and targeted campaign” aimed at men who have sex with men.
“I think the community has embraced that information, and I think it’s making a difference,” she said.