News release: Sexually transmitted diseases reach all-time high in 2015

News Release
April 11, 2016

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Sexually transmitted diseases reach all-time high in 2015

Increases in chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis fuel rise to nearly 26,000 STD diagnoses

An all-time high of 25,986 sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) were diagnosed in Minnesota in 2015, according to a report released today by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

The number of STDs increased by 6 percent from 2014 and by 33 percent from five years ago when 19,547 STDs were reported. The STDs which health care providers are required to report to MDH include chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.

“This disturbingly high rate of growth in the number of STD cases shows the need for improved education about STDs among both the general public and healthcare providers,” said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota Commissioner of Health. “These rates also provide further evidence that eroding basic local public health services not only hurts our ability to respond to intractable problems like STDs, but also to emerging infectious diseases like Zika virus.”

Key findings of the report include:

  • Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD and the No. 1 reported infectious disease in the state. It reached a new high of 21,238 cases in 2015 compared to 19,897 in 2014, a 7-percent increase. The majority of cases occurred in teens and young adults, ages 15 to 24. One out of every three cases occurred in Greater Minnesota and at least three cases were reported in every Minnesota County.
  • Gonorrhea remains the second most commonly reported STD in Minnesota with 4,097 cases reported in 2015 compared to 4,073 in 2014, a 1-percent increase. Forty-six percent of all gonorrhea cases occurred among 15- to 24-year-olds, and 77 percent of cases occurred in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
  • Syphilis cases increased to 654 in 2015 from 629 in 2014, a 4-percent increase. A new concern emerged with a 70-percent increase between 2014 and 2015 in syphilis cases among women. The increase occurred primarily among women of child-bearing age in all racial and ethnic groups, including pregnant women.  New syphilis infections continued to be centered within the Twin Cities metropolitan area and among males, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM). Three cases of pregnant women passing the infection to their babies (congenital syphilis) were reported in 2015. Seven cases of an uncommon form of the infection in the eye (ocular syphilis) were also reported.

The MDH report also shows higher infection rates for chlamydia and gonorrhea among communities of color and American Indians when compared to whites. Higher syphilis infection rates were seen among American Indian and African American women, and MSM of all races.

“Addressing disparities is a health department priority, particularly among those racial and ethnic groups with limited access to STD testing and prevention programs due to longstanding social, medical or income disadvantages,” Ehlinger said. “Expanding our partnerships within these communities will help to ensure that these services are available and culturally acceptable.”

Ways to prevent getting or spreading STDs include abstaining from sexual contact, limiting the number of sexual partners, always using latex condoms the right way during sex and not sharing needles for drug use, piercing or tattooing. Partners of STD-infected patients should get tested based on their risk behaviors and be treated at the same time to prevent reinfection and spread to others.

Testing, diagnosing and treating STDs in their early stages are critical to preventing spread of the diseases, health officials say. Since most STDs don’t show symptoms, it’s important for sexually active people to get tested each year or when involved with a new partner. In addition to yearly exams, health care providers should look for additional opportunities to provide screening. This is especially important for younger patients who may not have yearly check-ups.

Health officials from MDH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all health care providers assess the sexual risks among their patients and provide the necessary STD screenings. Health care providers should also make efforts to get infected patients’ sex partners treated.

“We recommend health care providers take a complete sexual history and test all women with risk factors for syphilis,” said Krissie Guerard, manager of the HIV, STD and tuberculosis section at MDH. Risk factors include drug use, multiple sex partners, infection with other STDs and prior syphilis infection. All pregnant women should be tested at three points during their pregnancy: the first visit with their doctor, the 28th week of pregnancy and at delivery.

What’s being done, resources

Action steps and resources for STD control, monitoring, prevention, testing and treatment include the following:

  • The Community Restoring Urban Youth Sexual Health (CRUSH), in partnership with the Minnesota Chlamydia Partnership (MCP), will host its second annual STI Testing Day in Minnesota on April 12. Sexually active teens and young adults are encouraged to take advantage of this observance by getting tested for STDs. More than 50 locations will offer no or low-cost STD testing throughout the state. For testing locations, visit the CRUSH website Minnesota STI Testing Day (website removed).
  • The complete Minnesota STD Surveillance Report – 2015, STD fact sheets, information about expedited partner therapy, National STD Awareness Month (April) campaign materials and a link to CDC’s STD treatment guidelines can be found on the MDH website at Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).
  • The MDH STD nurse specialist provides education and training on STDs to health care providers and the public by request.
  • MDH launched a three-month syphilis awareness campaign reaching American Indian women in the Twin Cities and those residing on reservations through the cable television network GoodHealthTV®.
  • Syphilis outreach activities reaching African-American women and men include educational exhibits at summer community festivals and the launch of urban-based radio and video public service announcements promoting syphilis testing.
  • The Minnesota Chlamydia Partnership , of which MDH is a member, has developed an action plan to reduce and prevent chlamydia in the state at the Minnesota Chlamydia Partnership (MCP).
  • The MDH Partner Services Program provides follow-up services to people with HIV, syphilis, and those referred from clinics with untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea and their sexual partners who may need examination and treatment at the STD/HIV Partner Services Program.

For confidential information about the prevention and treatment of STDs and testing locations, call the Minnesota Family Planning and STD Hotline at 1-800-78-FACTS (voice or TTY), 651-645-9360 (Metro area), Text ASKMN to 66746 or visit their website at Minnesota Family Planning and STD Hotline.


Media inquiries:

Doug Schultz
MDH Communications