Syphilis, gonorrhea cases rising in North Dakota

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The dramatic jump in sexually transmitted diseases in North Dakota has state health officials trying to reverse the trend by raising awareness among not only residents but also doctors.

The number of confirmed syphilis cases in North Dakota jumped from 15 in 2012 to 24 last year - a 60 percent rise that one health official calls “drastic.” The number of gonorrhea cases climbed from 340 to 471 in the same time period, an increase of 39 percent.

Health officials do not know whether the increases are due to more people being tested or to more people being infected, Lindsey VanderBusch, the STD program manager for the state Health Department, said Tuesday.

North Dakota’s population has risen in recent years due to an oil boom, but “the population increase is not necessarily following the proportion of the increase in cases,” VanderBusch said. STD cases also are increasing across the state, not just in the western oil patch, she said.

The syphilis numbers are most alarming, VanderBusch said. From 2009 to 2012, there were a total of 13 reported cases in North Dakota, and for many years before that there was zero or one case per year.

Syphilis cases also are on the rise nationally, with a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing a rate increase of about 11 percent, with the jump primarily among gay and bisexual men. In North Dakota, the increase also is among heterosexuals, VanderBosch said.

“These diseases are here in North Dakota, they are prevalent and increasing, and if you’re not protecting yourself you could be at risk,” VanderBosch said.

The Health Department is contacting physicians throughout the state to urge them to be on the lookout for STD symptoms when they see patients, and to give doctors tips on diagnosing the diseases.

North Dakota Medical Association Executive Director Courtney Koebele said the association welcomes the help.

“We support the Department of Health’s work as it supports our mission of helping North Dakota physicians provide high-quality medical care,” she said.

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