An all-time high of 25,986 sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were diagnosed in Minnesota in 2015, according to a report released today by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
The number of STDs increased by 6 percent from 2014 and by 33 percent from five years ago when 19,547 STDs were reported. The STDs which health care providers are required to report to MDH include chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.
“This disturbingly high rate of growth in the number of STD cases shows the need for improved education about STDs among both the general public and healthcare providers,” said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota Commissioner of Health. “These rates also provide further evidence that eroding basic local public health services not only hurts our ability to respond to intractable problems like STDs, but also to emerging infectious diseases like Zika virus.”
Key findings of the report include:
- Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD and the No. 1 reported infectious disease in the state. It reached a new high of 21,238 cases in 2015 compared to 19,897 in 2014, a 7-percent increase. The majority of cases occurred in teens and young adults, ages 15 to 24. One out of every three cases occurred in Greater Minnesota and at least three cases were reported in every Minnesota County.
- Gonorrhea remains the second most commonly reported STD in Minnesota with 4,097 cases reported in 2015 compared to 4,073 in 2014, a 1-percent increase. Forty-six percent of all gonorrhea cases occurred among 15- to 24-year-olds, and 77 percent of cases occurred in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
- Syphilis cases increased to 654 in 2015 from 629 in 2014, a 4-percent increase. A new concern emerged with a 70-percent increase between 2014 and 2015 in syphilis cases among women. The increase occurred primarily among women of child-bearing age in all racial and ethnic groups, including pregnant women. New syphilis infections continued to be centered within the Twin Cities metropolitan area and among males, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM). Three cases of pregnant women passing the infection to their babies (congenital syphilis) were reported in 2015. Seven cases of an uncommon form of the infection in the eye (ocular syphilis) were also reported.
The MDH report also shows higher infection rates for chlamydia and gonorrhea among communities of color and American Indians when compared to whites. Higher syphilis infection rates were seen among American Indian and African American women, and MSM of all races.
“Addressing disparities is a health department priority, particularly among those racial and ethnic groups with limited access to STD testing and prevention programs due to longstanding social, medical or income disadvantages,” Ehlinger said. “Expanding our partnerships within these communities will help to ensure that these services are available and culturally acceptable.”
Ways to prevent getting or spreading STDs include abstaining from sexual contact, limiting the number of sexual partners, always using latex condoms the right way during sex and not sharing needles for drug use, piercing or tattooing. Partners of STD-infected patients should get tested based on their risk behaviors and be treated at the same time to prevent reinfection and spread to others.
Testing, diagnosing and treating STDs in their early stages are critical to preventing spread of the diseases, health officials say. Since most STDs don’t show symptoms, it’s important for sexually active people to get tested each year or when involved with a new partner. In addition to yearly exams, health care providers should look for additional opportunities to provide screening. This is especially important for younger patients who may not have yearly check-ups.
Health officials from MDH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all health care providers assess the sexual risks among their patients and provide the necessary STD screenings. Health care providers should also make efforts to get infected patients’ sex partners treated.
“We recommend health care providers take a complete sexual history and test all women with risk factors for syphilis,” said Krissie Guerard, manager of the HIV, STD and tuberculosis section at MDH. Risk factors include drug use, multiple sex partners, infection with other STDs and prior syphilis infection. All pregnant women should be tested at three points during their pregnancy: the first visit with their doctor, the 28th week of pregnancy and at delivery.