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KHQ MD ALERT: Gonorrhea Outbreak Increases In Spokane County

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SPOKANE, Wash. - Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD), in collaboration with the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), recently noted an unexpected increase in the number of gonorrhea cases in Spokane County.

In consideration of these numbers, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has declared a gonorrhea outbreak for the county. Current data at the end of September 2013 shows a 58 percent increase in gonorrhea cases in Spokane County compared to the same period in 2012.  

Gonorrhea often has no symptoms, especially in women, and due to its asymptomatic nature, testing for gonorrhea remains as important as ever.   "In the majority of recent cases, these individuals were treated in an emergency room or urgent care setting, indicating these cases progressed to symptoms, as opposed to being diagnosed through screening," said Dr. Joel McCullough, SRHD health officer. "In addition to being more vigilant about protected sex, this is an opportunity for our community to step up its screening for gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases."  

Gonorrhea is one of several common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and is spread when a person has unprotected sex with someone who has the disease. Untreated gonorrhea can cause serious and permanent health problems in both women and men and although appropriate antibiotics will cure the infection, it will not repair any permanent damage done prior to treatment.  

The 2012 Spokane County rate for gonorrhea was 38.1 per 100,000, compared to the statewide rate of 48.1. Year-to-date, the state is also experiencing an increase in cases, up 33 percent compared to last year. Both Spokane County and Washington state remain below the national rate for gonorrhea, which in 2011 was 104.2 per 100,000.  

Sexually-active individuals with symptoms such as penile or vaginal discharge, burning during urination, painful intercourse or, in women, lower abdominal pain, should stop having sex and see a health care provider immediately. Also, anyone with a sexual partner who was recently diagnosed with an STD should see their provider for evaluation.

Some people should be tested for gonorrhea even if they do not have symptoms or know of a sex partner who has gonorrhea. "Anyone who is sexually active should discuss his or her risk factors with a health care provider and ask whether he or she should be tested for gonorrhea or other STDs. Most of the time, a simple urine test can be used to test for gonorrhea," said Dr. McCullough."  

As part of local public health's role in STD control, the health district also sent an update to area health care providers Monday, urging them to screen patients with new or multiple sex partners, as well as treat infections with a recommended dual antibiotic treatment and consider screening and treatment for patients' partners.  

And although the current outbreak is not related to antibiotic resistance, public health and health care providers continue to monitor for the emergence of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea in the community. It is critical to remember that currently-recommended antibiotics remain effective in the United States.  

Other public health responsibilities in STD control include community-wide promotion of safer sexual behaviors and encouraging residents to seek health care, where STD screening and treatment is an integrated part of care. The health district also provides sexual health education for people who have been recently diagnosed with an STD and assistance with anonymously notifying their sex partners about potential exposure. SRHD also offers disease reporting assistance to health care providers.  

If a person has questions about his or her individual risk, possible treatment or about gonorrhea in general, they should talk to their health care provider or visit www.srhd.org. Health care providers needing assistance in diagnosis, treatment or partner notification should visit stdtoolkit.srhd.org  or call (509) 324-1494.

Spokane Regional Health District's web site also offers comprehensive, updated information about Spokane Regional Health District and its triumphs in making Spokane a safer and healthier community. Become a fan of SRHD on Facebook to receive local safety and wellness tips. You can also follow us on Twitter @spokanehealth.

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