Sexually transmitted diseases continue to spread across Spokane and North Idaho at dangerous levels despite warnings of rampant growth.
Spokane health officials announced Thursday gonorrhea is in outbreak status after identified cases grew more than 50 percent compared to the average number of cases over the last six quarters. Cases in North Idaho’s five most-northern counties jumped 300 percent in 2013 and are on pace to have even more cases this year.
“We are seeing the highest rate we’ve seen in the last 20 years,” said Anna Halloran, Spokane Regional Health District disease intervention specialist.
Gonorrhea and chlamydia are the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the Inland Northwest as well as nationwide; women between the ages of 15 to 24 are the most at risk, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Spokane County ranks sixth among Washington’s counties for the number of gonorrhea cases per 100,000 population and fourth for chlamydia, based on state health department records. The numbers of cases increased from 181 in 2012 to 329 in 2013 and continue to climb this year, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.
Idaho’s Panhandle Health District, which includes Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Kootenai and Shoshone counties, recorded 15 gonorrhea cases in 2012 and 42 in 2013.
“Our numbers are relatively low, but the numbers are telling us we have a gonorrhea endemic,” said Jeff Lee, a district epidemiologist. “We are interviewing people about where they meet people, and we are not finding a common ground. In 2007, it was bars and we put up fliers and handed out condoms.”
He added, “It’s here, and it’s running through our community.”
Gonorrhea doesn’t usually have symptoms in females, so it’s important for women under the age of 25 who are sexually active to be tested, Halloran said. Also, it’s recommended for those who might be considered an increased risk, such has someone with multiple sex partners and men who have sex with men.
Many cases have been discovered after tests in area emergency rooms, Halloran said.
Gonorrhea can be harmful to one’s body if left untreated. For women, it can lead to infertility, pelvic pain or tubal pregnancy.
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease nationally. While it increased slightly in Spokane with more than 2,000 cases in 2013, the disease has not reached any special alert status, health officials say.
The symptoms may include discharge and painful urination in men. The infection often has no symptoms in women, Halloran said.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea spread in the same manner, through sexual activity. Both diseases can make it more likely for a person to contract and spread HIV, health officials said.
“Not having sex would be the best way to protect yourself,” Halloran said. Wearing a condom or being mutually monogamous can work too.
“There are still good antibiotics to treat both diseases, and partner treatment is also available (in Spokane County),” Halloran said. “We call them to let them know they were exposed without telling them which partner they got it from. Hearing things from the health department seems to help them take the call seriously.”