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With gonorrhea cases up 94 percent in Utah, more screening needed

Published November 13, 2013 12:52 pm

Health • Officials recommend routine screenings for all sexually active adults.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Citing a 94 percent spike in gonorrhea cases, Utah public health officials are recommending that all sexually active adults, particularly those with new or multiple partners, be regularly screened for the bacterial infection.

There were 633 cases of gonorrhea statewide from January through September in 2013, compared to 327 cases reported during the same period in 2012. The new cases also exceed the yearly total of 480 for 2012.

Gonorrhea is the second most common sexually transmitted disease, after chlamydia, and fifth most frequently reported communicable disease in Utah.

"It's been on the increase for the last two to three years. But this past year was significant," said Lynn Meinor, manager of communicable disease prevention for the state Department of Health.

Over the past five years gonorrhea has been diagnosed primarily among homosexual men and other males considered high risk. But this latest increase has been in women, said Meinor. "It appears to have shifted to the heterosexual population," she said.

Only 27 percent of cases were among females in 2012, compared to 40 percent in 2013, health department data show.

"We're trying to get the word out to family practice doctors and OB-GYNs that they should be screening regularly and taking thorough sexual health histories," said Meinor.

Most at risk are middle-aged men and women living along the Wasatch Front. Two-thirds of the cases were among non-Hispanic whites.

As with most communicable diseases, densely populated Salt Lake County accounted for the lion's share of cases ­— 72 percent, said Lynn Beltran, epidemiology supervisor for the Salt Lake County Health Department.

"Everyone is at risk," said Beltran, who stressed that 50 percent of those who are infected don't have symptoms.

Gonorrhea is treatable, though the bacteria have become resistant to many antibiotics over the years. As a result, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised treatment guidelines.

There is no evidence of bacterial resistance in Utah, Meinor said. But the new CDC guidelines still hold: a single-dose injection plus oral antibiotics taken either as a single dose or twice a day for seven days is now required.

kstewart@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kirstendstewart —

Can I get gonorrhea by sharing an ice cream cone?

The Utah Department of Health has a catchtheanswers.net website where parents, youth and health providers can get detailed information about gonorrhea. The site features tips for talking to your kids about sexually transmitted diseases and a portal where youth can post anonymous questions and have them immediately answered by experts.