It wasn’t that long ago that gonorrhea and syphilis cases were nearly non-existent. However, times have changed, and the medical community of nearly all states like Montana are concerned about the emergence of gonorrhea-resistant antibiotics.
RiverStone Health family physician Dr. Chris Baumert said the number of cases for both diseases, along with chlamydia, have increased significantly. He said the CDC is closely watching gonorrhea because there is only one set of drugs that can be used to treat the disease.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that one of the most urgent public health threats is antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea.
According to the 2017 Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance report, gonorrhea is the second most common disease in the U.S. with more than 555,000 cases being reported. Chlamydia came in first and syphilis ranked third.
U.S. gonorrhea cases have risen 75.2 percent since its historical low back in 2009. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, there was a sharp increase in the number of gonorrhea cases in 2014, but they started to drop in 2017. However, it appears there are more cases of gonorrhea for 2018. According to health officials, Montana will have over 1,000 cases in 2018 compared to just over 860 last year.
61 cases, so far, were reported in Missoula County. In 2017, that number was 57.
The number of chlamydia cases has slowly risen in the last five years. In 2013, the number of cases was 3,807. In 2017. The number of cases was 4,564. If the rate of transmission continues as the DPHHS predicts, the number of chlamydia cases will reach 4,700.
Missoula County saw 381 chlamydia cases through September 2017. The number of cases from September 2017 to September 2018 increased to 398.
Syphilis cases have been stagnant so far with only 37 cases in 2018 compared to 38 for last year. In Missoula County, there were nine cases of syphilis in 2018 compared to just six cases in 2017.
Missoula County Health Department Infectious Disease Specialist and registered nurse Brad Applegate said syphilis is the disease also to watch out for. Although he can’t explain why, Applegate said it was a nearly non-existent disease and has skyrocketed in the last couple of years.
About half of STDs are seen in young people between the ages of 15 to 24. For Yellowstone County, people between the ages of 20 and 45 tend to be infected more. For Missoula County, some individuals as young as 14, are infected with STDs.
Applegate said this means schools need to take a look at their sex education programs and determine where changes need to be made.
Baumert said chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis can be passed vaginally, anally or orally. Many teens believe they are safe from STDs if they stay with oral sex. He said any sexual act can increase a person’s chances for these infections and increasing their chance of getting HIV.
There are currently over 50 people in both Missoula and Yellowstone Counties that have HIV.
Women who get chlamydia and gonorrhea may also suffer from pelvic inflammatory disease and have long-term health complications like infertility. Baumert said all three diseases can pass from mother to unborn child, which means pregnant women should be tested.
A September 2018 CDC report shows that there were double the amount of cases of congenital syphilis in the U.S. from 2013 to 2017 (362 compared to 918). It’s the highest number of cases recorded in 20 years’ time.
In the past few years, more of the Montana syphilis were in men who had sexual intercourse with other men. However, in 2018, there were four reported cases that involved women.
Another potential reason for the higher STDs numbers is the increase in drug use. People who share needles often increase the number of HIV cases.
According to Baumert, many communities in the U.S. offer non-profit needle-sharing programs so people who use drugs can protect themselves from getting infected.
Baumert said STD testing is easy. A blood test is necessary for syphilis while chlamydia and gonorrhea need a swab of the infected area.
The CDC recommends sexually active individuals to get tested every three to six months for STDs.
The treatment for each disease is pretty easy. Early-stage syphilis is a single shot of penicillin. For chlamydia and gonorrhea, a simple treatment of both a pill or injection of an antibiotic tends to work.
Of course, treatment is only effective long-term is the person being treated also treats their partner.
When a person is diagnosed with an STD, it gets reported to the county health department that then verifies the person’s recent sexual partners. It’s not uncommon for people to hang up when they hear the news. And, it’s also difficult to find these individuals. People don’t want others snooping into their private lives, but the agency is only doing it to protect the public and the infected individual from any long-term consequences.
The agency will use social media to track down a person’s partners and inform them to take immediate action. Some people get angry while others are grateful to learn the information.
There are three ways in which a person can protect themselves from getting an STD:
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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