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Minnesota sees 'alarming' rise in STDs, drug-related infections

ST. PAUL — State health officials are concerned about the sharp rise in sexually transmitted diseases and drug-related infections.

According to a Minnesota Department of Health's annual report, the state saw a steep increase in syphilis, gonorrhea and hepatitis C cases, each of which increased by at least 25 percent in 2016.

"This alarming rise in STDs and hepatitis C is of urgent concern," said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. "(The Department of Health) and local public health departments, clinicians and our community partners are using every resource we have to maintain the health of Minnesotans and protect them from the health consequences that can be caused by untreated disease."

Syphilis cases increased by 30 percent compared to 2015, and gonorrhea cases increased by 25 percent. The annual report noted a trend in increased STD cases in people who use drugs.

Minnesota had 51 new cases of hepatitis C in 2016, up from 37 a year prior.

One bit of good news for the state is HIV cases were down in 2016. There were 290 reported cases last year, down from 298.

While much of the report indicated the reported cases of STDs and hepatitis C were centralized in the Twin Cities metro area, there were several indicators of disproportionate increase in Greater Minnesota. Syphilis has spread greatly outside of the metro, with a 58 percent increase in the infection outside the Twin Cities, and one in three new cases of chlamydia were reported in Greater Minnesota.

Nationally, Minnesota continues to trend below national averages for STD, HIV and hepatitis C infection.

Demographics

The state's report showed a trend of STDs, HIV and hepatitis C affecting young people and minorities.

While people ages 15 to 24 represented only 14 percent of Minnesota's population at the last census, 64 percent of new chlamydia cases were from that age group, and 46 percent of gonorrhea cases.

Minorities were hit hard by chlamydia and gonorrhea in 2016. Blacks had chlamydia at rates 9.5 times higher than whites, and gonorrhea 18 times higher than whites. American Indians (5 times higher for chlamydia, 9 times higher for gonorrhea), Hispanics (triple as high each) and Asians and Pacific Islanders (twice as high each) also were disproportionately affected.

Gay and bisexual men also are heavily impacted by early stage syphilis. More than three-fourths — 77 percent — of reported cases of syphilis in its early stages, according to the report.

Prevention

The spread of STDs, HIV and hepatitis C is easily preventable by condom use during sex and not sharing injection drug, tattoo and piercing equipment, according to state health officials.

Injected drug users and sexually active people to be tested at least once per year for STDs, HIV and hepatitis C, they said.

"These diseases usually do not show physical symptoms immediately," said Kristen Ehresmann, who directs infectious disease work at the Health Department. "Early diagnosis and treatment are critical for the well-being of the patient as well as disease prevention."

Officials also encouraged the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, a prescription medication that can help reduce the risk of HIV infection.

For more details, read the Health Department's annual STD report at http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/dtopics/stds/stats/2016/index.html.

Robb Jeffries

Robb Jeffries is a news coordinator for Forum News Service. He is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and previously served as a reporter and copy editor for the Grand Forks Herald. Reach him at rjeffries@forumcomm.com and follow him on Twitter at @robbjeffries.

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