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Chlamydia, gonorrhea cases continue to rise in Iowa

Early 2019 data shows higher rates of sexually transmitted infections

Devices used to take blood pressure, temperature, and examine eyes and ears rest on a wall inside of a doctor’s office in New York City in 2010. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
Devices used to take blood pressure, temperature, and examine eyes and ears rest on a wall inside of a doctor’s office in New York City in 2010. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

State public health department data shows Iowa is on track this year to continue a decadelong trend of increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections — an overall increase officials say could be driven by a number of factors.

The Iowa Department of Public Health has found the number of reported cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea — bacterial infections transmitted through sexual contact — between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year were higher than the same period in 2018.

According to that preliminary data, 7,730 cases of chlamydia were reported to the department in 2019, a 9.6 percent increase from 2018.

There were 2,572 cases of gonorrhea in 2019 — a 14.6 percent increase from the year before.

Public health officials won’t see finalized numbers until the end of the year, but the preliminary data follows the same upward trend of diagnosed cases among Iowans seen in recent years, said George Walton, STD program manager for the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“The trends that we’re seeing the first half of 2019 are pretty similar to what we’ve seen in the last couple years here in the state,” Walton said.

In 2018, Iowa reported 14,685 cases of chlamydia, an increase from the 13,895 seen in 2017. It’s also a spike from the 9,372 reported diagnoses in 2008.

In total, 4,839 Iowans were diagnosed with gonorrhea in 2018, and 3,758 were diagnosed in 2017. In 2008, by contrast, 1,700 cases of gonorrhea were reported.

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Chlamydia and gonorrhea, which can infect both men and women, are the most commonly reported conditions in Iowa.

Testing and treatment

Diagnoses have been increasing around the nation, but it’s unclear to state public health officials what may be driving the higher numbers in Iowa. Cases appear across demographics, including age and race — meaning the trend isn’t strictly seen in one population.

Walton said efforts to test Iowans for sexually transmitted infections have been increasing in recent years, but that may account for a only a small part of the trend.

If testing increases, Walton said diagnoses typically should go down. Since the positivity rate is level, it indicates individuals remain undiagnosed.

Walton noted that public health officials have seen some indication there is a higher rate of reported gonorrhea cases among people using substances, such as methamphetamine.

But, Walton said, “The main thing I would emphasize is that those are just a sampling of reasons, and none are in isolation. There are multiple things causing this, and we can’t point to one specific factor.”

Both gonorrhea and chlamydia can be cured with the right treatment.

However, many people do not exhibit symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health officials recommend regular testing for prevention and control of these infections. People may be unaware they are transmitting the infection to others.

“Even if you don’t have symptoms, it can cause some pretty bad damage to your body if it’s untreated,” Walton said.

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In rare cases, untreated gonorrhea can cause serious and permanent health problems, according to the CDC. Untreated chlamydia can lead to the inability to conceive and potential ectopic pregnancy in women.

Testing locations can be found at gettested.cdc.gov.

For more information about gonorrhea, chlamydia and other sexually transmitted infections, go to the Iowa Department of Public Health and the CDC’s websites.

• Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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