- Associated Press - Monday, March 23, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - With gonorrhea rates on the rise, representatives are considering whether to appropriate state funds to help prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

Democratic Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell of Helena introduced House Bill 597 in the House Appropriations Committee on Monday. The proposal would provide $100,000 every year to the Department of Public Health and Human Services to educate and test people for STDs.

“I believe that prevention is a lot more cost effective than treatment,” Dunwell said.

Jim Murphy of the health department said the federal government provides the state’s only funding for STD prevention, which totals about $1.9 million annually.

Montana’s rates of STDs are well below the national average. But the occurrence of gonorrhea in the state has more than quadrupled since 2012, according to data from the health department.

Big Horn, Rosebud and Roosevelt counties have seen the highest rates of gonorrhea so far this year, with 60-85 cases per 100,000 people in each county.

The number of cases nearly doubled in Roosevelt County last year, according to the health department. Almost 80 cases were reported in 2014, up from 40 in 2013.

Gonorrhea can cause infections in the genitals, rectum and throat, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If untreated, the disease can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.

Dunwell said the disease has grown resistant to current drugs.

“We don’t have a new drug in the pharmaceutical pipeline to treat gonorrhea,” Dunwell said. “So in everybody’s language that means that Montana may have a superbug on its hands, as does the rest of the nation.”

Murphy said gonorrhea is an outlier in terms of STD prevalence in Montana. He has not seen the same trend for chlamydia, HIV or syphilis.

Supporters of the proposal correlated an overall uptick in STDs to the influx of jobs at Montana’s oil-rich Bakken region, but Murphy said it’s more closely concentrated around tribal reservations.

“People like to blame the Bakken, things like that,” Murphy said. “But that’s not what we’re seeing.”

Murphy said that, in his 25 years of work in the health department, this is the first time he can recall a lawmaker proposing state funding for STD prevention.

No one spoke against the proposal Monday.

If approved, the $100,000 appropriation would be distributed to existing preventative and treatment centers around the state where the need is greatest.


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