Yakima Herald-Republic (11.05.2013)
The Yakima Herald recently reported that Washington State health officials warned the public and healthcare providers of a gonorrhea outbreak in Yakima County, and rising incidence in Benton, Spokane, Kitsap, and Thurston counties. The spike reversed a recent trend of decreasing rates for common STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea over the past few years. Yakima County has reported 109 gonorrhea diagnoses in 2013, compared to 62 cases in 2012 (76 percent increase).
According to Dr. Christopher Spitters, medical officer for the Yakima Health District, an incidence increase for one STD usually signaled higher risk for other STDs. Spitters was unsure why gonorrhea rates were rising in Washington and the other Pacific Region states of Alaska, Oregon, and California. On a practical level, Spitters stated that gonorrhea-infected people were having more sexual partners during the infectious stage—a few weeks to a few months—resulting in sustained gonorrhea transmission. Since gonorrhea often had no symptoms in women, they could transmit the infection unwittingly. Gonorrhea-infected males often experienced painful urination and discharge.
To break the chain of infection, health officials alerted healthcare providers to look for gonorrhea symptoms among their patients, to test the patients and their sexual partners, and to prescribe treatment for sexual partners, even if they declined testing. Washington participated in the state-federal “expedited partner therapy” program, in which people diagnosed with chlamydia or gonorrhea also could receive antibiotic “partner packs” without identifying their sexual partners. STD Field Investigator Consultant Lisa Baldoz noted smartphone apps like Grindr were helpful in reaching out to anonymous sexual partners without betraying confidentiality.
Gonorrhea incidence was highest among women ages 15–24 and men ages 20–29. Spitters emphasized the importance of testing young women and men who were sexually active but not in a monogamous relationship.