STDs are on the rise. If you're sexually active, you should do this for your health

Sexually transmitted diseases are increasing in Whatcom County, a trend that's seen in the rest of Washington state.

As a result, public health officials are encouraging people who are sexually active to get tested and, should they need it, to get treated.

"Getting tested regularly and asking questions of sexual partners should be normal steps people take to keep themselves healthy," said Joni Hensley, public health nurse supervisor for the Whatcom County Health Department's Communicable Disease division.

Record rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are occurring in the state, according to the the Washington State Department of Health, which recently released data for 2017.

STD rates are higher among men who have sex with men, according to the state data, and women who are 20- to 24-years-old have the highest rates of chlamydia.

Here's what the state data revealed about the county:

  • From 2016 to 2017, the overall number of reported STD cases increased by 67, reaching a total of 914.

  • Of that, gonorrhea cases jumped by 45, to a total of 147. That also meant a spike in the rate of gonorrhea cases from 48 per 100,000 people to 68 per 100,000. This jump was responsible for most of the county's increase in overall STD cases since 2016.
  • Chlamydia went up by 16 cases, for a total of 708, making for a slight increase in the rate to 327.3 per 100,00. Like the state, it's the most commonly reported STD in the county.
  • Herpes increased by eight cases, to a total of 53. That's an increase in the rate to 24.5 per 100,000.
  • Syphilis dropped by two, for a total of six cases. The numbers were too low to calculate a dependable rate.

A number of factors contribute to the rise of what also are known as sexually transmitted infections.

"Lack of knowledge about sexual health is one contributing factor," Hensley said. "Additional potential factors include an increase in anonymous partners and the inability to contact them for testing and treatment, and the availability and accessibility of sexual health services."

Talking about sex may not be a regular part of your doctor-patient relationship, but it should be. This can be especially true for adolescents and young adults who are disproportionately impacted by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Whatcom County also is mirroring the state in that the highest rates of STDs were among people younger than 25, according to Hensley.

"In 2016, the most recent year we have data broken down by age and gender, chlamydia rates are higher among females (and) gonorrhea rates are higher among males," she added.

As rates increase, public health officials are trying to get young, sexually active people to get tested, in part because many STDs have mild to no symptoms. Untreated infections can cause serious infections, especially for pregnant women.

"We can’t emphasize enough the importance of prevention and testing for STIs. Getting tested, asking questions and having good partner communication, and using barrier methods like condoms are steps that people can take to keep themselves healthy," Hensley said. "And while treatment for STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea is available, it’s complicated by things like the rise in antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhea."

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Learn more

Additional information about sexually transmitted diseases, including where to go in Whatcom County to get tested if you don't have a doctor, is online at doh.wa.gov. Type "sexually transmitted disease" into the search window.