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Health department reports dramatic increase in gonorrhea cases throughout Utah

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 13 2013 4:54 p.m. MST

The Utah Department of Health's Bureau of Epidemiology reports a 94 percent increase in gonorrhea cases throughout the state in the first two-thirds of this year.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Local cases of an already common sexually transmitted disease increased significantly this year in both men and women.

Preliminary data from the Utah Department of Health's Bureau of Epidemiology show that 633 cases of gonorrhea were reported statewide from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30. About half that many cases, 327, were reported in the same period in 2012, reflecting a 94 percent increase this year.

In all of 2012, 480 cases of gonorrhea were reported in Utah, according to the health department.

Disease intervention specialists in Salt Lake, Weber, Davis and Utah counties — where the numbers are highest — have found that the disease, previously associated more with men and homosexual behavior, has shifted to larger populations of women and the heterosexual population, according to Lynn Meinor, the state's Communicable Disease Prevention Program manager.

"And the increase in females is across all age groups," Meinor said, adding that the largest increases are among 25- to 29-year-old women and women ages 35 to 39.

In 2012, 82 women were reportedly diagnosed, and 251 cases have been reported in women this year.

Many of the women increasingly being diagnosed with gonorrhea, she said, are receiving the diagnosis after ending up in the emergency room with extreme pain resulting from residual pelvic inflammatory disease. Gonorrhea itself rarely exhibits symptoms.

"We are at the point with this increase that we need people to be talking about it, and we want people to get tested to ensure their well-being," said Lynn Beltran, epidemiology supervisor with the Bureau of Infectious Diseases at the Salt Lake County Health Department.

The county, including the state's capital city, accounted for 72 percent of the state's reported gonorrhea cases from January through September.

Gonorrhea, a contagious venereal disease, is the second-most common sexually transmitted disease after chlamydia and is the fifth-most frequently reported communicable disease in Utah.

The bacteria are spread through sexual contact with an infected partner and sometimes present no symptoms, or if there are symptoms, they may include discharge or painful urination. Even without symptoms, health officials recommend testing for anyone who is sexually active, particularly those with new and/or multiple partners.

"People often don't test because they have no symptoms. They like to think they would know if they had an infection, and this is simply a myth," Beltran said.

Screening for gonorrhea involves a simple urine test and can be done at a doctor's office or at clinics run by any one of the state's 12 health departments.

The health department is encouraging all doctors to regularly screen patients for gonorrhea and other STDs, regardless of risk.

"Many aren't disclosing their risks to their private physicians," Meinor said.

Gonorrhea is treatable with a combination of injectable and oral antibiotics. However, the bacteria have become resistant to many antibiotics over the years. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised treatment guidelines in 2012.

Serious long-term health issues can occur if the disease isn't treated, including infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and an increased likelihood of acquiring HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. More information can be found at www.cdc.gov/std/treatment.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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