The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) reported Monday that the rate of gonorrhea infections has increased six fold from 2012 to 2016.

Health officials note that it is not just gonorrhea and it’s not just a Wyoming problem. “This kind of growth is not something to unique to our state,” said Courtney Smith, Communicable Disease Surveillance Program manager with WDH.

“Nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) occur in the United States every year and the numbers tell us youth and young adults bear a substantial percentage of these infections,” Smith said. “In fact, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates half of all new STDs occur among young men and women aged 15-24.”

Smith said there are effective ways to prevent, diagnose and treat STDs. “STD screening, early diagnosis and timely treatment are essential in preventing STD transmission and long-term health problems,” she said.

Smith described certain people and situations specifically emphasized by WDH screening recommendations:

  • Those who have been with a new partner in the past 60 days
  • Those who have been with multiple partners in the past 60 days
  • Pregnant women
  • Sexually active males and females under the age of 25
  • Those who have STD symptoms
  • HIV-positive people
  • Those who have had sexual contact with someone who has an STD
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Current or past residents of detention or correction facilities

Abstaining from sex, reducing the number of sexual partners, and consistently and correctly using condoms are all effective prevention strategies. The WDH Communicable Disease Unit has programs such as its condom dispenser effort and a condom mailer option to help make condoms available for those who can’t afford them or can’t get to places where condoms are typically offered.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae/CDC
Neisseria gonorrhoeae/CDC

Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused the bacterium, Neisseria gonorrhoeae. This bacterium can infect the genital tract, mouth and rectum of both men and women. Ejaculation does not have to occur for the disease to be transmitted. It can also be transmitted from mother to baby during delivery.

Symptoms of gonorrhea usually appear with 2 to 5 days after sexual contact with an infected partner, occasionally symptoms make take longer to appear.

In women, infection may be asymptomatic. If present, the early symptoms of gonorrhea are often mild. The first symptoms in women are frequently; painful or burning sensations when urinating, an increase in discharge (yellow or bloody) and bleeding after intercourse.

Men have symptoms more often than women and they may include; a white, yellow or green discharge from the penis with pain, burning sensations during urination, and painful, swollen testicles.

While infection of the throat and rectum are frequently asymptomatic, rectal infection may have discharge, itching and painful bowel movements. The complications of untreated gonorrhea are numerous. The most common being pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a serious infection of the female reproductive tract.

Ectopic pregnancy may occur due to scar tissue that’s formed in the fallopian tubes. This can result in miscarriage or death of the mother.

In men, untreated gonorrhea can cause epididymitis, a painful condition of the testicles that can lead to infertility. Rarely, untreated gonorrhea can spread through the blood to the joints, causing permanent joint damage (gonococcal arthritis). Problems for the newborn that gets gonorrhea during delivery are blindness, joint and blood infections. When a child has the infection in any part of the body, it’s most commonly due to sexual abuse.

N. gonorrhoeae has progressively developed resistance to each of the antimicrobials used for treatment of gonorrhea.