By Kelly Catalfamo
SALT LAKE CITY — Infection rates for a common sexually transmitted disease have skyrocketed in Utah since 2011, according to a report released by the Utah Department of Health.
From 2011 to 2014, the statewide rate of gonorrhea jumped from 9.8 to 48.3 cases per 100,000 people.
Health department STD epidemiologist Joel Hartsell said the increase mirrors national trends but is amplified in Utah, particularly on the Wasatch Front. He said Utah's gonorrhea diagnoses increased among men by 296 percent and among women by 714 percent.
The increase among women is unusual and particularly concerning, Hartsell said.
He said the disease was historically prominent among men who have sex with men and has been appearing with more frequency in heterosexual men and women.
Because women are less likely to show symptoms of gonorrhea in the first few months after infection, they could unknowingly spread the disease, said Hartsell. Meanwhile, they are likely to develop pelvic inflammatory disease, a painful condition that could lead to infertility.
Anyone who has multiple sexual partners should be tested for the disease, which can cause burning discharge and abdominal pain, Hartsell said.
He said a study conducted by the state health department last summer showed that women diagnosed with gonorrhea were more likely to have been incarcerated or methamphetamine users.
The Utah Department of Health has been educating health practitioners about the increase in the disease. Hartsell said they have been working with doctors in Salt Lake City and its surroundings, where rates are higher. They also recently visited St. George, where they spoke with clinics and universities about new guidelines for gonorrhea treatment meant to address growing antibiotic resistance.
The health department would like to do further research and analysis but is operating on limited funds, Hartsell said.
He said many states provide money for STD intervention programs, but Utah does not, meaning the health department relies only on federal funding.