STD cases rise to new high in Minn.

The organism treponema palladium, which causes syphilis, is seen through an electron microscope.
AP Photo

The number of sexually transmitted diseases reported to the Minnesota Department of Health rose to a new high in 2011, officials announced Thursday.

The reportable cases of STDs — including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis — rose to 19,547 in 2011, compared to 18,009 in 2010 and 16,912 in 2009.

Health officials recommend sexually active people take steps to prevent becoming infected and get tested regularly for STDs.

Most of the STD cases in Minnesota last year — nearly 17,000 cases — were chlamydia. Nearly a third of those cases occurred in greater Minnesota. The majority of the cases were in teens and young adults ages 15 to 24.

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The health department also reported racial disparities in the infection cases. The chlamydia rates were 10 times higher for blacks than for whites. They were four times higher for American Indians, three times higher for Latinos and twice as high for Asians.

Gonorrhea was the second most common STD and showed a 6 percent increase. Most of the cases were concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area.

Health officials said there was a slight increase in syphilis cases, which were also concentrated in the Twin Cities. Infections were more common among men who had sex with other men.

STD and HIV section manager Peter Carr attributes part of the increase to complacency.

"Syphillis can be treated, so it may not be seen as a serious health threat. And to a degree we think that may be happening with HIV as well. With the advances in HIV medical care it can be managed successfully, so it's not seen as such a threatening or scary disease," he told MPR's All Things Considered.

But Carr said the state could be doing more to help teens and young adults make good decisions about their health. "I think the issue is that there's no set standard for the state, so how this is approached is handled on a school district by school district basis. And as a result, there's no guarantee that the information is getting across on a regular basis," Carr said.

In a news release, Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger said the STD disparities between whites and populations of color were "alarming."

"We may need to increase our efforts in partnership with our most impacted communities," he said.

Untreated gonorrhea and chlamydia can lead to infertility in women and men and can lead to complications for newborn children, health officials said. Untreated syphilis can cause blindness, mental illness, dementia and death.

More information is available on the health department's STD website.

(MPR reporter Lorna Benson contributed to this report.)