Sexually transmitted diseases continue to rise for at least the fifth year in a row, according to information from the Utah County Health Department.
Each of the four major STDs tracked by the health department increased last year from previous five-year averages, making STDs some of the most-diagnosed infectious diseases in 2018 in Utah County.
There were 1,257 reported cases of chlamydia last year, making a chlamydia diagnosis more common than influenza, which had 1,203 reported cases. 2018 continued chlamydia’s upward climb from a five-year average of 999 cases a year from 2011 to 2017.
There were 225 cases of gonorrhea last year, up from the five-year average of 135.8 cases a year. Reported diagnoses of HIV and syphilis more than doubled from their five-year averages. There were 22 new, reported cases of HIV last year, compared to a five-year average of 10.8 cases a year, and 36 cases of syphilis in 2018, compared to a five-year average of 15.2 cases a year.
In 2013, there were 772 cases of chlamydia in Utah County, 68 for gonorrhea, seven new cases of HIV and five reported cases of syphilis.
More women than men were diagnosed with chlamydia in 2018, while men had the majority of the reported gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV diagnoses.
HIV and syphilis have increased in Utah County especially among the population of men who have sex with men.
Kristine Black, a registered nurse in epidemiology at the Utah County Health Department, said she’s seen increases in syphilis locally within the last year and HIV within the last two.
“I can’t keep up,” Black said. “I’ve had to give up other responsibilities just to focus on syphilis,” Black said.
She said people can be unaware of how serious an STD can be, or that they can be infected and not show symptoms.
“I think most, if not the majority of those who don’t seek regular, routine screening, it is because of a lack of education,” Black said.
But despite screenings, some STDs are continuing to go undetected in Utah County due to incomplete testing. Black said chlamydia and gonorrhea can be contracted orally, urethrally and anally, but that many doctors don’t ask patients about their sexual preferences and will only do a urine test, missing gonorrhea and chlamydia that have infected other bodily sites. Black said the STDs then go undetected, and patients continue engaging in sexual contact with partners believing they are clean.
“That has been a big concern,” Black said.
Black said she’s asked clients if they’ve received anal testing at clinics, and have been told that doctors neither asked nor offered to perform it.
Routine STD testing — including anal swabs for those who have anal sex — is recommended every six months. It’s recommended for every three months for those who are considered higher risk, including people who have sex with anonymous partners.
The Health Department suggests not waiting to show symptoms of an infection before getting tested.
“One of the things we see is if there’s no signs or symptoms, then people seem to think that maybe they don’t have an infection,” said Tracy Harding, a registered nurse in epidemiology at the Utah County Health Department.
Black doesn’t have concrete information on why STD cases continue to rise across the board, but asks clients if they are using internet sites or apps to contact their sexual partners.
“Our thought is that increased accessibility to an anonymous sexual partner could easily be a factor increasing the rates,” Black said.
But what much of it comes down to, Black said, is a lack of education about STDs and how serious they can become if they are untreated.
“There is some deficit in their health awareness,” Black said. “If they are going to participate in these behaviors, then they need to be responsible for their health, as well as the health of the partners that they are having sexual contact with, and get the routine testing.”
Harding said the health department can contact a client’s sexual partners to get them tested and treated. It’s done anonymously, so partners do not know the client’s name.
“I think people are hesitant to give their partner information so we can get the partners treated so they don’t spread the infection,” Harding said.