BEND, Ore. – A big jump in cases of sexually transmitted diseases in central Oregon is causing concern and testing health agencies with fewer resources, according to health officials across multiple counties.
Chlamydia cases have been rising since 2010, increasing from 432 cases in Deschutes County a decade ago to 675 last year, the Bulletin newspaper in Bend reported. The number of cases in Crook County has nearly doubled and the number in Jefferson is up 52 percent.
Syphilis cases are also on the rise, and gonorrhea diagnoses rose from single digits in the early part of this decade to 65 cases in Deschutes County, 49 in Jefferson and 14 in Crook County last year.
“It’s been an increase that I haven’t seen before in all my years of public health in Central Oregon, said Karen Yeargain, communicable disease coordinator for Crook County Health Department. “And it’s been sustained. It hasn’t gone away.”
The trends match patterns across the state and country, but for reasons that remain unclear, both Deschutes County and Jefferson County have been well above the national average for STD transmission rates.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in September that the number of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis cases in 2016 surpassed 2 million for the first time ever. While those conditions can be cured with antibiotics, left untreated they can lead to serious health consequences including infertility, life-threatening ectopic pregnancies, stillbirth and an increased risk for HIV transmission, CDC officials said.
Public health officials say the evolution of HIV infection into a manageable condition has reduced the perceived risk of unprotected sex for many, allowing chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis to spread more rapidly. The emergence of dating apps for phones hasn’t helped.
While some of the increase might be attributed to better monitoring or easier testing for the diseases, epidemiological studies have concluded there has been a real increase in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. And it comes at a time when health departments are least equipped to deal with it.
“Unfortunately we’ve had large federal, state and local cutbacks to STD prevention programs and services over the last decade,” said David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors. “And this is having a direct impact on the people’s lack of awareness about their risk of getting STDs.”
It’s also left smaller health departments struggling to keep up. Jefferson County Health Department relies mainly on part-time staff who must find extra time to do partner notification.
“When the nurses are doing that, they’re not able to provide direct services (to patients),” Jefferson County Health Director Michael Baker said. “It takes away from the other services we provide.”
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