Sexually transmitted disease rates climbing fast in Wash. state

This microscope image made available by the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria magnified 200X. (Dr. E. Arum, Dr. N. Jacobs/CDC via AP)

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Sexually transmitted disease rates are continuing to rise in Washington state, according to new figures released Tuesday by the state Department of Health.

The latest study shows there were thousands more cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in 2016 when compared with the year before.

“It surprises me that they’re continuing to go up,” Washington Department of Health’s STD Controller Mark Aubin said.

Chlamydia hit an all-time high and was the most common STD, rising from 28,748 cases in 2015 to 31,193 cases in 2016 - or 434.2 cases per 100,000 population. That’s a 9 percent increase. The rates of chlamydia were found to be highest in women aged 20 to 24 years old.

Gonorrhea cases rose from 7,203 to 8,165 (up 13 percent, and cases of syphilis increased from 453 to 566 (up 25 percent) from one year to the next. Those are the highest rates in Washington in 20 years.

Aubin says better testing may factor into the steady trend upwards in recent years, though he says unprotected sex and an increased use of dating apps could factor in.

Men were found to be most at risk for both gonorrhea and syphilis. The study also found that men who have sex with men are disproportionately impacted by STDs.

“It made it really clear that the services that we offer are needed,” Fred Swanson said. Swanson is the executive director of Gay City in Seattle, where members of the LGBTQ community can get tested for HIV as well as several STDs.

“I think a lot of people are embarrassed to go get testing,” he said. “What we’re trying to do here is make it easier to access, in a space that’s non-judgmental.”

The 2016 state survey also found five cases of congenital syphilis, a severe, disabling, and often life-threatening condition in which a pregnant mother transmits the disease to her infant. Washington state generally has less than one case of congenital syphilis per year, and the five cases in 2016 were the highest number in more than 20 years.

The WA Department of Health and local agencies try to interview anyone with infectious syphilis (meaning they tested positive within the past year). They successfully contact around 90 percent, they say.

King County saw its own spikes in STD cases, showing an 11 percent in chlamydia and syphilis cases and 15 percent jump in gonorrhea. King County health says most concerning is that they had more than double the number of cases of syphilis in women in 2016. Syphilis also rose 81 percent in heterosexual men.

The 2017-2019 state budget allocates $3.3 million per year for STD prevention, monitoring, and control. State health officials said the key to curbing the steady rise in STDs is early detection and treatment.

They said most people with STDs don’t have obvious symptoms, but without treatment they can spread disease and possibly develop serious complications. Sexually active people are urged to get tested and treated.

State health officials also are working with local public health agencies and community partners to enhance their capacity to investigate and reduce the spread of STDs.

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