Duluth News Tribune (Minn.) (04.11.13)
On April 11, the Minnesota Department of Health stated that STDs have reached historically high levels in Minnesota. Kristin Ehresmann, a health department epidemiologist, declared that 2012’s total number was the highest ever reported. The department of health reported 21,465 cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis in 2012, an increase from 19,547 cases in 2011 and 18,009 cases in 2010. Syphilis cases declined by 8 percent, but gonorrhea cases were up 35 percent, and chlamydia cases up 7 percent. Chlamydia was Minnesota’s most common infectious disease in 2012, and gonorrhea would have been second except for a rare outbreak of whooping cough.
Dr. Linda Van Etta, infectious disease specialist at Duluth’s St. Luke’s hospital, noted that St. Luke’s gonorrhea case numbers nearly tripled between 2011 and 2012—from 14 cases to 40. St. Louis County reported 750 chlamydia cases in 2012, for a rate of 375 per 100,000 people; the county reported 117 gonorrhea cases. In 2009, St. Louis County had experienced a decline in STDs, recording 475 chlamydia cases and 47 gonorrhea cases, both down from the previous year.
Regarding the reasons for the 2012 STD increase, Van Etta noted that STD education efforts do not seem to pay off. However, Dr. Kevin Stephan, an infectious disease specialist for Essentia Health, said that there is not enough education relative to the need. In his talks about STDs to health classes at a local school, the students who are in the age range of the majority of Minnesota gonorrhea and chlamydia cases (15+ years) asked questions revealing misconceptions. Stephan noted that teens and young adults often have an “air of invincibility” toward sexually risky behavior.
The health department emphasized that the only way to be certain is to be tested, but that message is often ignored. Ehresmann stressed that people should be tested and treated, as well as their partners, or the diseases will keep spreading. Both Van Etta and Stephan declared that gonorrhea case numbers may be rising partly because of a lack of any effective pill to treat it. One shot for gonorrhea is still effective, but Stephan warns of the concern that gonorrhea will develop a resistance to that treatment, too. Minnesota has provided “expedited partner therapy” since 2008, meaning doctors can prescribe medication for people with STDs and their sexual partners. For gonorrhea though, that does not help when the only treatment is a shot. The good news is the decrease in syphilis cases. Ehresmann credited that to a “cutting edge and targeted campaign” aimed at men who have sex with men.”