Reported STI cases reach record high

Yelena Kibasova

Sexually transmitted infections set a record high last year with nearly 16,000 cases reported to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Luisa Pessoa-Brandão, HIV/STD surveillance coordinator for the department, said the number is “really part of an increase that we’ve been seeing over the past few years.”

STIs that are reportable in Minnesota are chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, which all are curable. Pessoa-Brandão said the three diseases can be treated with antibiotics.

Still, there has been a steady increase of STI reports in the past 10 years, she said.

According to the department, 12,187 chlamydia cases were reported in 2005 compared with 11,601 cases in 2004.

“Chlamydia is the most common,” Pessoa-Brandão said. “It’s asymptomatic in a lot of the cases, so people are more likely to transmit it, because they won’t know that they are infected necessarily.”

Three of four women and one of two men who have chlamydia display no symptoms.

Gonorrhea increased from 2,957 cases in 2004 to 3,481 cases in 2005. If untreated, gonorrhea can lead to infertility and can spread to other organs and joints.

Syphilis, with 116 cases in 2005, can lead to blindness, brain damage, heart problems and death. Infection reports increased 142 percent, from 48 cases in 2004.

“These diseases, if they’re not treated Ö have life-changing consequences,” Pessoa-Brandão said.

The Minnesota Department of Health also found an increase in sexually transmitted infections among teenagers and young adults. Seventy percent of reported chlamydia cases in Minnesota were among 15- to 24-year-olds.

Eli Coleman, University professor and director of the Program in Human Sexuality, said it is hard to pinpoint a reason for the increase but emphasized that the best cure is education.

“I think that we are not doing as good of a job in terms of providing sexual health information and prevention of STI information in our schools and in our community,” he said.

While abstinence is a “surefire way to prevent STIs,” Coleman said there still are very young people being sexually active.

David Golden, public health and marketing director at Boynton Health Service, stressed that “condoms, condoms, condoms” are the key. Condoms prevent sexually transmitted infections, he said.

Boynton hands out about 100,000 condoms each year.

“Abstinence is great – you aren’t going to get sexually transmitted infections if you don’t have contact,” Golden said. “But we also know that we have students that are sexually active (and) they have to use condoms.”

The Minnesota Department of Health also reported an increase in sexually transmitted infections in suburbs and in outstate Minnesota. Chlamydia increased 9 percent in the suburbs and 6 percent in greater Minnesota.

Coleman said he is not sure why this regional increase occurred but said it could be tied to drug use.

“We are very concerned about the increase of methamphetamine use in rural areas, and that is associated with sexually transmitted infections,” Coleman said. “(It) is possible that that’s playing a role.”

Because there are several possible causes, the overall increase in STIs is hard to explain, said Wendy Hellerstedt, professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health.

She said the increase could be a result of better reporting or detection. It also could be the case that people with sexually transmitted infections are seeking more health care or that people are engaging in more high-risk behaviors, she said.

“The reality is that it could be a combination of all those things,” she said. “You just look at all possible explanations, and then what you have to do is investigate and figure out what does explain this.”