With chlamydia at all-time high, MN Dept of Health focusing on STD awareness

It's not exactly breaking news, but less condom use leads to more STDs. "Certainly, risky behaviors are a factor," an MDH official says.
It's not exactly breaking news, but less condom use leads to more STDs. "Certainly, risky behaviors are a factor," an MDH official says.

Last year was a record one for bacterial STDs in Minnesota, with chlamydia rates and raw cases at all-time highs, gonorrhea up 26 percent, and syphilis up a whopping 64 percent.

This morning, we got in touch with Kristen Ehresmann -- director of the Minnesota Department of Health's infectious disease epidemiology, prevention, and control division -- and asked her what she thinks explains all those STDs.

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"We don't have a great smoking gun answer for why we're seeing these increases, but we want to get the word out because the message we have is generally kind of the same, and that is you can certainly prevent this from happening," Ehresmann says. "If you're sexually active, you really need to make sure you're being screened for STDs; if you have them, you are being treated; and if you discover you have one, make sure your partners are also treated."

Last year, more than two-thirds of chlamydia cases were reported by people between the ages of 15 and 24. That stat fuels concerns young people just aren't getting the MDH's message, but Ehresmann points out there's a more positive interpretation of the data.

"What would be very helpful is if we had information on clinic visits, because we might've had more people getting tested than in 2012," Ehresmann says. "So maybe that's what accounts for the increase and the actual rate of positives went down, but we just don't have that information so we can't say."

There's also comfort in the fact that Minnesota isn't alone in experiencing an increase in bacterial STDs -- "this is happening nationally," Ehresmann says -- and that HIV rates in the state are "stable."

Ehresmann says that in response to the data, the MDH is thinking about "creative" ways it can use its limited resources to raise public awareness about STDs.

"We have very limited resources for STDs -- we don't get resources for outreach," Ehresmann says. "We're trying to make people aware of the fact that whereas some of the STDs may be asymptomatic initially, they can have significant long-term consequences if left untreated."

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]

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