Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs), are pretty common in Montana, as over 75 new infections are reported in the state every week. State health officials agree that STDs have been showing an upward trend in Montana lately and reached record highs in all three common, reportable STDs, namely gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia.
The best way to prevent STDs is to get tested regularly. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends whoever is sexually active must get tested along with their partner(s). The sooner you get screened for STIs and STDs, the better chances you have to be treated and cured of the virus and stop transmission of the disease to others.
CDC notes that all adolescents and adults between ages 13 and 64 must get tested for STDs at least once a year. Females younger than 25 and older females must particularly get tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
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According to the STDs surveillance report 2018 released by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), a significant increase in STDs is noted statewide. In 2018, the state reported 4,950 new chlamydia cases, at least 383 cases more than the number reported in 2017.
However, the state is more impacted by gonorrhea as cases consistently rise every year. The state recorded a whopping 51% increase compared to 2017, with 1,183 new cases in Montana. The rate of gonorrhea cases had previously declined in the state, but 2018 numbers indicate a record increment in gonorrheal infections in the past 30 years.
As per 2019 statistics, gonorrhea rates continued to increase, touching new heights compared to the past seven years with 1,500 cases. DPHHS's STD/HIV program manager Dana Fejes stated that considering these numbers, it is safe to assume that gonorrhea cases haven't been this high in the past four decades.
In 2018, over 45 syphilis cases were reported, along with 24 newly diagnosed HIV cases. Around 66% of new syphilis cases were reported among men who have sex with men, and 65% of those who tested positive for syphilis claimed they used online dating sites to find new partners.
"Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are, generally speaking, on the rise even in the nation, so in Montana, we're not immune to that," said Fejas, M.P.H.
Cascade and Yellowstone are identified as the most affected counties regarding the spread of gonorrhea and syphilis in 2019. In addition, Gallatin county has reported a sharp rise in chlamydia cases with a total of 545 cases in 2018, up from 349 cases in 2014. This county reported 25 gonorrhea cases in 2018 and 49 cases in 2019.
This is a concerning issue since people with an STD are more at risk of contracting HIV because similar behaviors and circumstances make people vulnerable to getting STDs and HIV. Such as unprotected sex, multiple and/or anonymous partners, and blood transfusion.
Chlamydia, caused by Chlamydia trachomatis bacterium, is one of Montana's most commonly reported infectious diseases. According to the DPHHS STDs surveillance report 2018-2019, since 2012, chlamydia rates in Montana have increased substantially, particularly in females, as in 2018, 3,229 or about 65% of all reported cases were diagnosed in females. The greater proportion of diagnosis could be attributed to testing recommendations as it results in more females seeking medical care than males and being tested more often.
Furthermore, the highest number of chlamydia cases, almost 35%, was diagnosed among people aged 20–24 years compared to any other age group. The white population was the most vulnerable group as 69% of chlamydia infections were diagnosed in 2018, followed by American-Indians with 23%. It is worth noting that American-Indians are disproportionally affected by chlamydia despite that this group makes up just over 6% of Montana's total population.
Gonorrhea, caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium, is the second most commonly reported STD in Montana. In 2018, the state reported 1,176 cases, which is higher compared to the past ten years. Until 2012, gonorrhea incidence was under control in Montana, but the rate has increased steadily since, from 10.7 in 2012 to 81.9 per 100,000 in 2015.
Between 2015 and 2017, the number of gonorrhea cases leveled off slightly but again increased by a staggering 50% in 2018 with 111.9 cases per 100,000 people. Most gonorrhea cases were reported in 20-24 and 25-29 age groups as these collectively account for over 50% of all reported cases. Among these groups, 55% or 427 cases were reported in females, and 211 cases were diagnosed in the 20-24 age group, out of which 108 or 51% occurred among females.
As is the case with chlamydia, Montana's American Indians are disproportionately impacted by gonorrhea. This population group makes up 40% of all infections despite comprising just over 6% of the state population. Still, the white population accounted for the highest prevalence of gonorrheal infections, with 49% of all diagnoses in 2018.
The rates of primary and secondary (P&S) syphilis increased slightly in Montana in 2015 and reached a record high in 2017 with 48 cases per 100,000 population. In 2018, 45 cases were reported to DPHHS, most of whom were males (72%). P&S syphilis rates were higher in men who have sex with men (64%) than women, and the white population had a higher number of cases with 33%.
Montana State has declared transmission of STDs by an infected individual to an uninfected individual as a misdemeanor. Though the state law doesn't provide a comprehensive outline of prohibited activities, exposure to STDs through sexual contact especially unprotected contact, and sharing needles will result in up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
In Montana, Planned Parenthood clinics operate extensively to offer rapid testing and screening services for infectious diseases. The clinics receive government funding, and their fees are determined on a sliding scale. This means your fees are calculated according to your income, assistance eligibility, and demographic factors. Planned Parenthood offers testing, diagnosis, and treatment services for STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital warts, bacterial vaginosis, herpes, syphilis, and HIV. The clinics offer STD prevention guidance, safer sex education, and vaccinations services as well. Rapid testing results can be obtained within just 20 to 30 minutes.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, STD/HIV/Hep C Programs utilizes CDC recommendations for STD/HIV prevention among adolescents and adults and offers guidance to high-risk population groups regarding prevention efforts. The department has initiated a Get Checked Montana initiative. Under this program, the state offers facilities like behavioral risk counseling services and MpowerMT groups and engages with users via social marketing to promote STD/HIV screening. The DPHHS also funds organizations to encourage statewide testing, outreach, and prevention activities.
Furthermore, the Montana health department is currently working on a brand-new statewide media campaign to raise awareness about the increasing rate of STDs and inform residents about how they prevent infections. The campaign will target dating apps and social media users and will post awareness messages on these platforms. Since STDs impact a large number of American-Indians, therefore, the state offers low-cost testing facilities at tribal clinics and Indian Health Services.
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.