Sexually-transmitted diseases reached an all-time high in Minnesota last year. The state Health Department documented 17,650 STD cases in 2008. That's almost 600 more infections than the previous year.
The Health Department was expecting to see more Chlamydia cases. The number of reported infections has been growing steadily for more than a decade. But Peter Carr said he was surprised to learn that in 2008, the number of cases jumped 7 percent. Usually the annual increase is closer to 4 to 5 percent. Carr directs the STD and HIV section at the Health Department.
"This increase that we've seen really over the last ten or twelve years, it's been a steady 4 to 5 percent increase per year, is likely to be due to a number of factors that also include just a greater rate of transmission in the community," Carr said. "And we don't have a good explanation for why that's going on."
Carr said it's also notable that in 2008, there was a large increase in Chlamydia among males. Infections were up 13 percent and most of those cases were among 15 to 24 year old males.
In fact, that age group has by far the most Chlamydia cases overall. Teens and young adults make up nearly 70 percent of reported infections.
Carr said it's a troubling trend when you consider the damage that Chlamydia can cause.
"Multiple untreated episodes of Chlamydia lead to bad things happening in women's reproductive tracts," Carr said. "So for example it can ultimately lead to infertility, scarring of the fallopian tubes, ectopic pregnancies, a variety of nasty, unpleasant outcomes."
It's rare, but in some cases Chlamydia can also cause infertility in men. The Health Department provides funding for Chlamydia testing and treatment. But Planned Parenthood's Connie Lewis said it's not nearly enough. Her organization administered 56,000 STD tests to patients last year.
"The public health community really doesn't have adequate resources to address the issue," Lewis said.
Lewis said Planned Parenthood is backing legislation in the House and Senate that would dedicate an additional $1 million for STD testing and treatment. In the case of Chlamydia, she said the money would help the state test sexually active women under the age of 25, a strategy recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The legislation would also spend $300,000 on educational programs to teach young people how to minimize their risk of infection.
"These rates can be reversed," she said. "But they can't be reduced unless we address these issues and the issues are funding for testing and treatment and education."
Lewis said the Health Department has done a good job of drawing attention to the STD problem. But she faults the agency for not having an action plan to reduce the infections which are now so high in some parts of the state that they're considered a self-sustaining epidemic.
The Health Department's Peter Carr said more prevention funding would be extremely helpful in combating STDs. But he's not banking on it during this legislative session.
"I mean, given the size of the projected budget deficit for the next biennium, it doesn't seem that funding for new programs of any type is real likely," Carr said.
The Health Department's STD report did contain some positive news. Gonorrhea infections, which are the second most commonly reported STDs in Minnesota, dropped 12 percent last year.