OWATONNA — Steele County is following a statewide trend of increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases, according to a recent report from the Minnesota Department of health.
In fact, the percent increase in Steele County was higher than the state.
Minnesota saw the rate of STDs climb by about 10 percent from 2012 to 2013, the report said, with reportable STDs in the state including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.
But Amber Aaseth, Steele County Public Health director of nursing, said chlamydia and gonorrhea are the diseases primarily reported in the county.
In 2013, 94 chlamydia cases were reported in Steele County — about a 12 percent increase — compared to 84 in 2012.
Minnesota saw a 4 percent increase in chlamydia, which is the No. 1 reported infectious disease in the state, and the majority of the cases occurred in teens and young adults in the age group of 15 to 24.
The number of gonorrhea cases increased from 2012 to 2013 in Steele County, as well. In 2013, seven gonorrhea cases were reported, compared to three in 2012 — an increase of 133 percent.
Between those two STDs, Steele County saw about a 16 percent increase in reported cases.
And those statistics are troublesome for local health officials.
“That definitely is concerning,” said Stan Groff, interim Steele County Public Health director. “More than a 10 percent increase is undoubtedly significant and follows a trend that we’re seeing in the state. Prevention is the only way we’ll keep these diseases from spreading.”
Statewide, there were 23,133 STD cases, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, in 2013, compared to 21,465 in 2012 and 19,547 in 2011, said the Minnesota Department of Health report. The number of gonorrhea cases increased 26 percent and syphilis cases increased 64 percent in the state in 2013.
Aaseth believes the a decrease in condom use, the increase in longer-lasting birth control and the reduced hype in the media contributed to the increase in STDs in Steele County from 2012 to 2013.
In 2011, Planned Parenthood, a sexual and reproductive health care provider, in Steele County closed, and Aaseth said that also may have impacted the STD rate in the county.
“Outside of the hospital and clinic, we don’t have anything like that right here locally,” Aaseth said. “We have to refer people out of the county.”
Steele County Public Health provides educational STD information, condoms and pregnancy tests to its clients, but refers people to the Mankato Open Door Clinic, Planned Parenthood in Rochester and Mankato, Migrant Health in Rochester and the Center Clinic in Dodge Center, for STD testing and exams, Aaseth said.
“If they have a primary doctor here, we’re going to say you need to see your primary doctor, but if they tell us they don’t and don’t have funding or they are afraid to go in to see someone here locally, then that’s when we would make these referrals outside,” she said.
Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Ed Ehlinger said the increased STD rates documented in the report underscore the importance of prevention, testing and awareness.
“Untreated STDs can have serious health consequences,” Ehlinger said. “Testing, diagnosing and treating these diseases in their early stages will prevent long-term health problems and slow their spread. Since most STDs don’t show symptoms, it’s important for sexually active people to get tested each year or when involved with a new partner.”
According to the Department of Health, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to infertility in women and men and can be passed from an infected woman to her newborn children, causing premature delivery, infant pneumonia and blindness. Untreated gonorrhea can spread to organs and joints leading to life-threatening conditions. Untreated syphilis can cause blindness, mental illness, dementia and death.
STDs can be prevented by abstaining from sexual contact, delaying the start of sexual activity, limiting the number of sexual partners, using latex condoms during sex, and by not sharing needles for drug use, piercing or tattooing, the Department of Health said.
“These diseases are susceptible to treatment and can be knocked out if diagnosed,” Groff said.
Groff and Aaseth ask parents to speak to their children about STDs, and they encourage residents to see their physicians annually.
“A lot of people don’t even know they have it, and that’s why it’s widely transmitted,” Aaseth said. “That’s why it’s important for everyone to get in every year. If you’re sexually active, get in and have a physical by your doctor.”
For the complete Minnesota Department of Health report, visit http://www.health.state.mn.us/std.
Action steps and resources provided by the Department of Health for STD control, monitoring, prevention, testing and treatment can be found at http://www.health.state.mn.us/std.
For confidential information about the prevention, testing locations and treatment of STDs, call the Minnesota Family Planning and STD Hotline, toll free, at 1-800-78-FACTS, Text ASKMN to 66746 or visit http://sexualhealthmn.org/.
Reach reporter Ashley Stewart at 444-2378 or follow her on Twitter.com @OPPashley