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STDs at record high in Minnesota

ST. PAUL -- When it comes to sexually transmitted diseases, the state of Minnesota keeps breaking records it doesn’t want to break.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported on Tuesday, April 30, that 32,024 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported in 2018, up from 30,981 cases in 2017, a 3 percent increase. That was a record number, confirmed Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the health department’s state epidemiologist and medical director. The number of cases reported in 2017 was an all-time high, as were the 28,631 cases reported in 2016 and the 25,986 in 2015.

It’s a sign that the message isn’t getting out, Lynfield said.

“We need to get the message out that sexually transmitted diseases don’t always have symptoms, and they still can be transmitted,” Lynfield said in a phone interview. “And they can also have consequences, including infertility. So it’s really important to get tested, and people should know that testing is accurate. It’s easy, and treatment is effective.”

Chlamydia continued to be the most commonly reported infectious disease in Minnesota, with a 2 percent increase to 23,564 cases, according to the health department. The majority occurred in teens and young adults ages 15 to 24, and one out of every three cases occurred in Greater Minnesota.

The number of gonorrhea cases increased by 16 percent, to 7,542.

St. Louis County was something of an outlier in regard to chlamydia. The number of cases in the county dropped from 888 in 2017 to 847 last year. But gonorrhea numbers in the county rose from 174 in 2017 to 253 last year.

Statewide, the rate of gonorrhea per 100,000 population reached an all-time high in 2018 and was 15 percent higher than in 2017, said Jered Shenk, a state health department epidemiologist.

But the increase was higher in Greater Minnesota, Shenk said — 35 percent.

Syphilis cases overall decreased 2 percent to 918 cases. But the number of cases of congenital syphilis — in which the disease is transmitted through the mother’s placenta — rose from 2 to 10.

Shenk noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the rate of infants born with syphilis has doubled in the past four years. In Minnesota, the rate per 100,000 live births increased from zero in 2014 to 15.2 last year.

Congenital syphilis can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, birth defects and infant death, according to the health department. But it can be prevented with proper screening and treatment during pregnancy.

“It’s really important that providers know to test women for syphilis during pregnancy,” Lynfield said. “And it is also important for prenatal care providers to know that if a woman doesn’t have prenatal care, she should be screened for syphilis when she is admitted for delivery.”

The number of HIV cases was up slightly, from 280 to 286.

Sixty acute hepatitis C cases were reported, up from 59 in 2017. The highest rate was among Native Americans, according to the health department, and more than half of those diagnosed with hepatitis C reported injection drug use.

For the first time, the highest number of newly reported hepatitis C cases was in the 26-30 age group. Previously, the highest number was among baby boomers.