MANKATO — The number of sexually transmitted diseases rose to a record level statewide and locally, increasing 6 percent in 2014.
Blue Earth County continued to have one of the highest chlamydia rates in the state. Only Hennepin and Ramsey counties have higher rates.
Blue Earth County's rate was 481 per 100,000 people. That's up from a rate of 473 in 2013 and 409 in 2012.
Dr. Amy Brien, an OB-GYN with Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, said cities with high rates of college-aged people means higher rates of STDs. She hopes some of the increase in reported STDs is because of more testing.
"I know that over the past couple of years there's been a push for primary care to do more STD testing. So I don't know if the higher rates are partly due to increased testing," Brien said.
She said one of the challenges to getting younger people to prevent STDs and to be tested is "the invincibility thing."
"Even patients I offer screenings to, quite a few decline because they just don't think it will happen to them. They don't have symptoms, so they don't go in for testing," Brien said.
"It's too bad because the big ones — chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis — are all treatable."
She said she and her colleagues encourage the use of condoms and push people to get annual testing and for those having unprotected sex to get tested every six months.
"There's a new generation each year, so we need to keep up with the education and testing," she said.
Ramsey County had the highest chlamydia rate of 560 with Hennepin County at 558.
Ways to prevent getting or spreading STDs include abstaining from sexual contact, limiting the number of sexual partners, always using latex condoms during sex, and not sharing needles for drug use, piercing, or tattooing, the health department says.
Many people don’t experience symptoms from chlamydia, but if left untreated, a person is at risk for pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pain and even infertility.
State health officials said the rise in STDs means public health departments, clinicians, individuals and communities need to do more to reduce the rates. Left untreated, STDs can have serious health consequences.
“Today’s report shows we still have significant work ahead in order to reduce STDs across Minnesota," said a statement by Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.
She said the solution to reducing rates is comprehensive sex ed and better access to health services for young people.
Last year, Planned Parenthood administered more 98,000 STD tests at low or no cost.
Reportable STDs in Minnesota include chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. There were 24,599 cases reported in 2014 compared to 23,133 in 2013.
Chlamydia is the No. 1 reported infectious disease in the state and reached a new high of 19,897 cases in 2014 compared to 18,724 in 2013. The majority of cases occurred in teens and young adults ages 15 to 24.
Gonorrhea remains the second most commonly reported STD in Minnesota with 4,073 cases reported in 2014 compared to 3,872 in 2013. For the first time in the last decade, the rate in males is higher than the rate in females.
The state health department report also shows higher infection rates for chlamydia and gonorrhea among communities of color and American Indians. New cases of syphilis are centered primarily among the gay male population in the Twin Cities area, the department said.
“Knowing these disparities exist, we need to work toward achieving health equity for those communities that have the fewest opportunities to access STD testing and prevention programs due to social, medical, and/or income disadvantages,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said in a statement. “Expanding our partnerships with our most impacted communities will help to ensure that these services are available, culturally acceptable and therefore being used.”
The department said it’s important for sexually active people to get tested each year or when involved with a new partner. In addition to yearly exams, health care providers should look for additional opportunities to provide screening. This is especially important for younger patients who often may not be scheduled for a yearly checkup.