Minnesota reported record numbers of sexually transmitted diseases last year, as new cases continued to spread into suburban and rural sections of the state.
The combined total of new chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis infections increased 8 percent from 2016 to 2017 — eclipsing an annual total of 30,000 for the first time, the state Department of Health reported Tuesday.
While STDs remained more prevalent in urban areas, and among minorities and men who have sex with other men, the record numbers are at least partly due to growth in other regions and demographics. Among the new chlamydia cases last year, 65 percent were found in suburban and rural areas. That is an increase from 61 percent five years ago.
“There’s at least two cases [of chlamydia] in every county in Minnesota,” said Krissie Guerard, who manages the state health department’s STD section. “We’re definitely seeing that everywhere.”
Chlamydia is the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted disease. While it can be asymptomatic for years, it can eventually damage reproductive organs and cause infertility. Some of the increase in cases is due to more awareness and statewide testing of people who are sexually active. Eventually, the hope is that the increased testing and treatment will produce a decline in infections, Guerard said.
The increase “is not good,” she said, “and in the perfect world there would be no STDs. But we feel like we’re doing a good job now. ... Eventually, we will see a decrease.”
The state reported 6,519 cases of gonorrhea in Minnesota last year, a 28 percent increase from 2016.
Nearly half involved sexually active young adults between the ages of 15 to 24. The 934 cases of syphilis represented a 10 percent increase from 2016.
The increases are frustrating for advocates such as Jeremi Thomas, who has provided STD prevention information and testing at school and community events in Minneapolis through Neighborhood HealthSource’s Seen on Da Streets program.
“Part of me says, ‘How are they going up?’ ” Thomas said of the STD numbers. “I don’t think there’s any more sex being had, or unprotected sex.”
Thomas said young adults need to understand the importance of not only getting tested and treated, but also notifying sexual partners as well so they can do the same.
“Obviously, there’s more work to be done,” he said.
The impact of improved treatment and testing is reflected in the state’s latest numbers for HIV transmissions. The 284 cases reported last year were a slight decline from the 290 cases in 2016.
Medications can now drive HIV levels down to the point where infected people can no longer transmit the virus.