- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Salt Lake County health officials say there has been a sharp rise in sexually transmitted diseases, particularly in the transmission of gonorrhea.

In the first quarter of 2016, gonorrhea cases are already 40 percent higher than in the same period last year, The Deseret News reported (https://bit.ly/1UW8UKJ).

“For so many years, in my position, I would hear from the community, from legislators and various other leaders in the community that we don’t have an STD problem here in Utah or in Salt Lake County,” said Salt Lake County Health Department epidemiology supervisor Lynn Beltran. “And the data says the exact opposite.”

Beltran said all four STDs that the department tracks - chlamydia, syphilis, HIV and gonorrhea - are increasing, but that gonorrhea has had the sharpest rise. In 2011, Salt Lake County saw an average of about 200 gonorrhea cases a year. Cases started rising in 2012, and then reached 669 in 2013, 989 in 2014 and 1,028 last year.

“We have a significant problem here,” she said. “And if we continue to bury our heads in the sand, it’s only going to get worse.

Beltran said the outbreak is forcing the department to move funding from other areas in order to increase education for health care providers who may have not seen gonorrhea cases until recently, and to launch a media campaign on STD prevention and screening.

Though Utah has historically had lower STD rates than the rest of the country, Beltran said the rate of gonorrhea transmission in Utah is rising faster than those of the U.S. as a whole and are likely to soon overtake the national average.

“It’s a whole new world,” she said. “It’s a whole new game. And we’re trying to figure out how to compete with it.”

The majority of infections are among 15-34 year old white men and women, Beltran said, and a significant portion of patients are being diagnosed at hospitals and hospital-affiliated clinics rather than free or low-cost clinics.

Beltran said health officials are not keeping up the changing cultural feelings about relationships and sex. She said comprehensive sex education is vital in a world where dating apps mean sex is “at your fingertips.”

“A lot of people think, ‘That’s not me. I’m not at risk. I’m not with those people,’” Beltran said. “But anyone who is sexually active is at risk.”


Information from: Deseret News, https://www.deseretnews.com

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