The number of new sexually transmitted disease infections (mainly chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis) in the state of Minnesota decreased slightly in 2020, compared to 2019 statistics. However, the state reported a rise in gonorrhea cases. On the other hand, the number of chlamydia and syphilis cases dropped in the state. This drop could be due to lower STD testing rates in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) refer to the same condition. STDs are infections caused by parasites, bacteria, or viruses, and these organisms generally spread from person to person through sexual activity, particularly vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Some STDs, for instance, Hepatitis B or HIV, get transmitted through blood transfusion or via sharing syringes/equipment used for body piercing, injecting drugs, or tattooing. Pregnant females infected with STDs can pass the infection to their babies during pregnancy, while giving birth, or through breastfeeding.
In Minnesota, an HIV outbreak was declared in Ramsey, Duluth, and Hennepin counties in 2020, primarily due to people not getting tested for STDs at the right time. An STI can progress into HIV and AIDS if it remains untreated. The outbreaks affect people injecting drugs, sharing needles, and MSM (men who have sex with men) community. State Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield urges people to get tested for STDs and HIV to stay aware of their health status.
“It is also really important to get tested regularly for HIV and STDs, and if you are diagnosed with HIV, to take and stay on treatment to make the levels of virus undetectable,” noted Lynfield.
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The Minnesota Department of Health reported 33,250 sexually transmitted infections in 2020, compared to the number reported in 2019, 33,725, hence marking a 1% rise. According to the latest estimate released by the Minnesota Department of Health, chlamydia is the top reported STD in the state with 21,942 reported cases, marking an 11% increase from the rates of 2019, while gonorrhea is the second most reported infection with 10,217 cases, marking a 27% increase. At number three is syphilis, the cases of which reported a 3% decrease with 1,093 cases in 2020
As per the annual state STD surveillance report 2020, around 1,127 syphilis cases were reported in 2019, which was around 23% up from the previous year. Considering the number of syphilis cases in 2020, it is evident that the cases are decreasing. The report further noted that a sustained outbreak had been observed in northern Minnesota since at least 2016 that got spread to metropolitan areas in 2019.
For state health officials, the increasing cases of congenital syphilis are of particular concern as in 2019, r21 infants reportedly were born with the disease. This is at least two times higher than the number noticed in 2020, with a rate of 67% and the highest number of congenital syphilis cases reported to date.
State STDs estimates suggest that despite a 1% decrease, the fact cannot be ignored that STDs are still at near historic high levels. It is worth noting that the state reported a decrease in chlamydia cases for the first time since 2009. Furthermore, one out of three cases were reported in Greater Minnesota, and at least four cases were reported in every county.
Despite the slight decline in syphilis, the state recorded an increase in the more symptomatic, early stages of the disease by 8% in 2020 than in 2019. New syphilis infections were centered within the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Furthermore, primary and secondary syphilis cases increased by around 8% in 2020, with 416 cases reported overall, whereas, in 2019, the state reported 385 cases.
According to the state health department annual STD surveillance report 2020, a majority of chlamydia cases were reported among teenagers and young adults, age 15-24, in 2020. Around 41% of all gonorrhea cases occurred among the same age group, and around three-quarters or 74% of all reported gonorrhea cases were reported in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area.
New gonorrhea infections were mainly centered within the male population of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, specifically among men who have sex with men. Conversely, syphilis was more prevalent among females, particularly pregnant females or those of child-bearing age. Primary/secondary syphilis cases rose by 8% in 2020, and the largest concentration was seen in the male population, mainly among men who have sex with men.
As per the state’s STD data, between 2008 and 2018, black, non-Hispanic reported at least 9.7 times higher chlamydia cases compared to whites. On the other hand, American Indians reported a 5.5 times higher rate, Asians reported 2 times higher, and Hispanics reported 2 times higher rate. Regarding gonorrhea, black, non-Hispanics reported 16 times higher rates than whites, American Indians reported 12 times higher rates, Asians reported 2 times higher, and Hispanics reportedly had 3 times higher number of cases.
In males and females, syphilis cases were reportedly higher in people aged 25-29 years in 2018. The next most impacted group was 30-39 years old, and the third most affected group was 20-24 years old. The total number of syphilis cases was 292 in Minnesota, out of which 47% were reported in white non-Hispanics, black non-Hispanic population reported 24% of all cases, American Indians were diagnosed with 12% of all cases, and Hispanics reported 10% of all cases.
Minnesota’s STD/HIV Partner Services Program is an important initiative referring people diagnosed with STD or HIV to medical and preventive services. It also offers a Partner Services Health Representative services where a dedicated individual obtains information about the infected individual’s partner(s) and gets discreetly in touch with them to discuss the situation and inform them about the exposure without explaining their individual’s health status or circumstances. The partner is then referred to testing and necessary medical treatment if they may need it.
The Minnesota Chlamydia Strategy- Action Plan for Reducing and Preventing Chlamydia in Minnesota is another significant step to reduce chlamydia incidences in the state. It is Minnesota’s first comprehensive, statewide action plan designed to address the chlamydia epidemic, given that chlamydia rates continue to rise in the state, whereas federal funding for testing, screening, and treatment has decreased substantially over the years. State funds are virtually non-existent.
STD and HIV Section of the Minnesota Department of Health has recognized that addressing the growing number of chlamydia rates is beyond the department’s scope and available resources, which is why it has offered opportunities to form new partnerships within the state and outside its public health jurisdiction to receive innovative ideas and approaches, specifically for the youth as they are the most affected population group in the state. The Minnesota Chlamydia Partnership involves over 300 individuals and numerous organizations from Minnesota. It was formed in 2010, and all partners are required to work together and create a common framework for action to decrease chlamydia cases in the state.
Most people experience feelings of hesitation when going to get tested for STD, despite knowing they might have contracted one. EasySTD was created to change that.
Visit your nearest lab or clinic, order your home testing kit online, and follow the given instructions from an STD testing provider.
After ordering your STD test, visit the testing center to get tested or take a self sample including urine, cotton swab, or finger prick with the home testing kit and mail it back.
Receive the lab-certified results of your STD test from your test provider via mail or phone within 2 to 3 days. If the test comes positive, consult your doctor immediately.