Rates of sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in Island County and across the state, according to new data released by Washington State Department of Health.
Statewide, 2017 data shows “record rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.” Health officials urge sexually active people to get tested and treated for the diseases. Left untreated, some STDs can lead to long-term serious health risks, especially for pregnant women.
Comparing sexually transmitted infection cases and rates from year to year, 246 cases of chlamydia were reported in Island County for 2017, up from 204 cases in 2016, the annual report shows.
Gonorrhea rose by three reported cases. In 2017, 38 cases were reported in Island County, up from 35 cases the previous year.
Herpes reported cases dipped by five, down to nine cases last year, compared to 14 reported cases in 2016.
Two cases of syphilis were reported last year in Island County whereas no cases were diagnosed in 2016.
Dr. Brad Thomas, Island County health officer, said the increase in cases isn’t statistically significant because of the way data is collected.
“A lot of the reports come in by ‘batch,’ after being collected for a month or more,” he said, “and so it could literally be nothing more than when the reports were sent.”
Data show sexually transmitted disease rates are higher among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. Health officials recommend these individuals to talk to their medical providers about testing for syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV at least once a year.
“We are experiencing increases similar to what states across the country are seeing,” Zandt Bryan, state infectious disease field services coordinator, said in an interview.
Most people with STDs don’t have obvious symptoms, but without treatment they can spread disease and possibly develop serious complications.
“Rising rates of infection should always be concerning,” Bryan said. “In addressing them, we have to learn what contributes to that rise. In the case of chlamydia, it is hard to tell if more people are being diagnosed, or if medical providers are testing more people for the infection.”
Additional contributing factors for the increase could also include lack of knowledge around sexual health and lack of access to care, he added.
Many sexually transmitted diseases are curable, others are treatable. All are preventable, Bryan said.
Consistent and correct condom use is still the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, health experts say. Getting tested and treated is also vital to stop its spread.
Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD; the rates are highest in 20- to 24-year-old women.
Health officials are particularly concerned over the increase of babies born with syphilis, passed along from their infected mothers. From 2016 to 2017, there were as many cases of congenital syphilis as in the previous 10 years combined, the state report found.
It’s also on the rise nationally.
Up to 40 percent of babies born to women with untreated syphilis may be stillborn or die from the infection as a newborn, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unlike metropolitan counties, there are no public clinics in Island County that provide STD testing.
Private physicians and local hospitals do offer testing, Thomas said.