Montana, Like Rest of Nation, Faces Rising Number of STD Cases

Montana, Like Rest of Nation, Faces Rising Number of STD Cases

It wasn’t that long ago that gon­or­rhea and syphilis cas­es were near­ly non-exis­tent. How­ev­er, times have changed, and the med­ical com­mu­ni­ty of near­ly all states like Mon­tana are con­cerned about the emer­gence of gon­or­rhea-resis­tant antibiotics. 

River­Stone Health fam­i­ly physi­cian Dr. Chris Baumert said the num­ber of cas­es for both dis­eases, along with chlamy­dia, have increased sig­nif­i­cant­ly. He said the CDC is close­ly watch­ing gon­or­rhea because there is only one set of drugs that can be used to treat the disease. 

The U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion not­ed that one of the most urgent pub­lic health threats is antibi­ot­ic-resis­tant gonorrhea. 

Accord­ing to the 2017 Sex­u­al­ly Trans­mit­ted Dis­ease Sur­veil­lance report, gon­or­rhea is the sec­ond most com­mon dis­ease in the U.S. with more than 555,000 cas­es being report­ed. Chlamy­dia came in first and syphilis ranked third. 

U.S. gon­or­rhea cas­es have risen 75.2 per­cent since its his­tor­i­cal low back in 2009. Accord­ing to the Mon­tana Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health and Human Ser­vices, there was a sharp increase in the num­ber of gon­or­rhea cas­es in 2014, but they start­ed to drop in 2017. How­ev­er, it appears there are more cas­es of gon­or­rhea for 2018. Accord­ing to health offi­cials, Mon­tana will have over 1,000 cas­es in 2018 com­pared to just over 860 last year.

61 cas­es, so far, were report­ed in Mis­soula Coun­ty. In 2017, that num­ber was 57

The num­ber of chlamy­dia cas­es has slow­ly risen in the last five years. In 2013, the num­ber of cas­es was 3,807. In 2017. The num­ber of cas­es was 4,564. If the rate of trans­mis­sion con­tin­ues as the DPHHS pre­dicts, the num­ber of chlamy­dia cas­es will reach 4,700.
Mis­soula Coun­ty saw 381 chlamy­dia cas­es through Sep­tem­ber 2017. The num­ber of cas­es from Sep­tem­ber 2017 to Sep­tem­ber 2018 increased to 398.

Syphilis cas­es have been stag­nant so far with only 37 cas­es in 2018 com­pared to 38 for last year. In Mis­soula Coun­ty, there were nine cas­es of syphilis in 2018 com­pared to just six cas­es in 2017.

The Pos­si­ble Rea­sons For The High STD Numbers

Mis­soula Coun­ty Health Depart­ment Infec­tious Dis­ease Spe­cial­ist and reg­is­tered nurse Brad Apple­gate said syphilis is the dis­ease also to watch out for. Although he can’t explain why, Apple­gate said it was a near­ly non-exis­tent dis­ease and has sky­rock­et­ed in the last cou­ple of years. 

  • He thinks it’s the result of pre-expo­sure pro­phy­lac­tic that allows peo­ple to engage in unpro­tect­ed sex, have sex with more than one part­ner and not be diag­nosed with the HIV virus. The prob­lem is that pre-expo­sure pro­phy­lac­tic, called PrEP or Tru­va­da, isn’t pro­tect­ing peo­ple from oth­er sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted diseases. 
  • He also blames tech­nol­o­gy as anoth­er rea­son, mak­ing it easy for strangers to hook up with oth­er peo­ple for sex. 
  • Many peo­ple infect­ed with an STD are unaware of the symp­toms, per­haps because of con­fu­sion or the lack of symp­toms present.

About half of STDs are seen in young peo­ple between the ages of 15 to 24. For Yel­low­stone Coun­ty, peo­ple between the ages of 20 and 45 tend to be infect­ed more. For Mis­soula Coun­ty, some indi­vid­u­als as young as 14, are infect­ed with STDs.

Apple­gate said this means schools need to take a look at their sex edu­ca­tion pro­grams and deter­mine where changes need to be made. 

Baumert said chlamy­dia, gon­or­rhea and syphilis can be passed vagi­nal­ly, anal­ly or oral­ly. Many teens believe they are safe from STDs if they stay with oral sex. He said any sex­u­al act can increase a person’s chances for these infec­tions and increas­ing their chance of get­ting HIV.

There are cur­rent­ly over 50 peo­ple in both Mis­soula and Yel­low­stone Coun­ties that have HIV.

Women who get chlamy­dia and gon­or­rhea may also suf­fer from pelvic inflam­ma­to­ry dis­ease and have long-term health com­pli­ca­tions like infer­til­i­ty. Baumert said all three dis­eases can pass from moth­er to unborn child, which means preg­nant women should be tested.

A Sep­tem­ber 2018 CDC report shows that there were dou­ble the amount of cas­es of con­gen­i­tal syphilis in the U.S. from 2013 to 2017 (362 com­pared to 918). It’s the high­est num­ber of cas­es record­ed in 20 years’ time.

In the past few years, more of the Mon­tana syphilis were in men who had sex­u­al inter­course with oth­er men. How­ev­er, in 2018, there were four report­ed cas­es that involved women. 

Anoth­er poten­tial rea­son for the high­er STDs num­bers is the increase in drug use. Peo­ple who share nee­dles often increase the num­ber of HIV cases. 

Accord­ing to Baumert, many com­mu­ni­ties in the U.S. offer non-prof­it nee­dle-shar­ing pro­grams so peo­ple who use drugs can pro­tect them­selves from get­ting infected. 

Baumert said STD test­ing is easy. A blood test is nec­es­sary for syphilis while chlamy­dia and gon­or­rhea need a swab of the infect­ed area.

The CDC rec­om­mends sex­u­al­ly active indi­vid­u­als to get test­ed every three to six months for STDs.

How Are STDs Treated?

The treat­ment for each dis­ease is pret­ty easy. Ear­ly-stage syphilis is a sin­gle shot of peni­cillin. For chlamy­dia and gon­or­rhea, a sim­ple treat­ment of both a pill or injec­tion of an antibi­ot­ic tends to work.

Of course, treat­ment is only effec­tive long-term is the per­son being treat­ed also treats their partner. 

When a per­son is diag­nosed with an STD, it gets report­ed to the coun­ty health depart­ment that then ver­i­fies the person’s recent sex­u­al part­ners. It’s not uncom­mon for peo­ple to hang up when they hear the news. And, it’s also dif­fi­cult to find these indi­vid­u­als. Peo­ple don’t want oth­ers snoop­ing into their pri­vate lives, but the agency is only doing it to pro­tect the pub­lic and the infect­ed indi­vid­ual from any long-term consequences. 

The agency will use social media to track down a person’s part­ners and inform them to take imme­di­ate action. Some peo­ple get angry while oth­ers are grate­ful to learn the information. 

3 Ways To Avoid Get­ting An STD

There are three ways in which a per­son can pro­tect them­selves from get­ting an STD:

  • Not hav­ing sex; stay­ing abstinent. 
  • Hav­ing sex with just one part­ner; stay in a monog­a­mous rela­tion­ship. Get test­ed togeth­er and show one anoth­er the results if they want to have sex with­out protection. 
  • Use con­doms to pre­vent STD transmission.

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