Snohomish County sees dramatic increases in gonorrhea and syphilis

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SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — The number of sexually transmitted diseases in Snohomish County has increased two folds over the past 5 years, health officials said Monday.

When looking at reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) from 2011-2016, the Snohomish Health District reports a 40 percent increase in chlamydia, a 112 percent increase in syphilis, and a 243 percent increase in gonorrhea.

RESOURCE:  STDs in Snohomish County Briefing Paper – May 2017 (PDF)

“These increases in STD rates are not unique to Snohomish County, but we only have four disease investigators available to serve a county with close to 800,000 people,” said Jefferson Ketchel, interim administrator for the Health District. “Decreasing resources and increasing populations mean we really are in a response-only mode right now.”

In addition to a breakdown of cases by city and type, the data was segmented by demographics to help pinpoint populations most impacted. Some of the highlights included in the report:

  • Chlamydia cases were predominantly younger adults, with 68 percent of the female cases being 15-24 years old and 83 percent of the male cases were 15-34 years old.
  • While chlamydia rates among females were double those of males in 2016 (436 vs. 217.7 per 100,000), rates of gonorrhea infections are higher in males for the same time period (96.4 vs. 60.1 per 100,000).
  • Among adults 25-34 years old, there was a 395 percent increase in gonorrhea infections for males and 314 percent increase in females from 2012 to 2016. For the same time period among adults 35-44 years old, there was a 207 percent increase for males and 1017 percent increase for females with gonorrhea.
  • When looking at syphilis, 80 percent of the cases were men who have sex with men.
  • Those identified as multiracial, Hispanic or Latino represented 32 percent of all syphilis cases, with the Hispanic or Latino population seeing a 174 percent increase in infections from 2012 to 2016.

The briefing report not only provided a baseline of data to use moving forward, but it also evaluated roles of the Health District and community partners currently in practice and areas for increased attention. Strategic areas of focus are:

  • Expanding access to Expedited Partner Therapy (EPT) in the community, allowing some individuals diagnosed with chlamydia or gonorrhea to obtain medications for his or her sexual partner(s) to prevent reinfection without a separate examination.
  • Increasing outreach and education to the community, as well as to providers and community partners that have contact with target populations, like schools, colleges, youth clubs and cultural groups.
  • Improving case follow-up and enhancing data collected through more collaboration between providers and Health District staff.

“The new operating budget approved by the legislature provides a small down payment for essential public health services,” said Ketchel. “Unless there’s a significant restoration of public health funding, we will continue to struggle to stay ahead of the problem, let alone turn the tide on disease rates like these.”

STDs are most commonly spread through anal, oral or vaginal sex. However, some STDs like hepatitis B and HIV can be transmitted through blood-to-blood contact by sharing needles or equipment to inject drugs. Pregnant women with STDs may also pass their infections to their babies during pregnancy, delivery or through breastfeeding. See for more information and resources

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