SEATTLE – Newly released data shows sexually transmitted diseases are continuing to rise across Washington; 2016 represented the biggest spike in cases since 1992.
That’s why the state’s Department of Health is sounding the alarm and encouraging sexually active people to get tested and treated.
“Anyone is at risk for getting any of these infections,” said Dr. Christopher Baliga, infectious disease specialist at Virginia Mason.
Baliga says when it comes to STDs, many people don’t even know they are infected.
“They feel fine, which means that not only are they infected with the potential health problems to themselves, but they’re also living a normal life where they are able to spread it to other people,” he said.
The data released by the Department of Health shows an increase in the number of new infections -- hundreds of new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.
State health officials say gay, bisexual and men who have sex with other men are disproportionately impacted – but diseases like syphilis are now finding their way into other populations like never before.
“What’s new is we are now seeing that epidemic gradually creep into the larger population, including heterosexuals and in particular women,” said UW Medicine’s Dr. Matthew Golden.
Doctors also say pregnant women can suffer complications with their babies if they don’t know they’re sick.
Golden says all women under 26 years of age should be tested yearly and men who have sex with men should also.
“It’s super easy to spread and so it’s much better to know the information and it also means people are coming in to get tested and that’s really good news,” said Fred Swanson, executive director at Gay City.
At Gay City’s office on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, many people can get tested and treated for STDs, sometimes for free. Health officials say treatment is the key to putting a dent in STD’s rising rates.
“It’s easy to treat, it’s easy to deal with. I mean it’s not great news but it’s great news that we have easy access to treatment, easy access to addressing the issue,” said Swanson.
Doctors also say people need to continue using condoms and other protection when sexually active.
“You can actually send an anonymous text message or email to someone,” she said. “It doesn’t say who it’s from but just lets you know you may have been put at risk for sexually transmitted infection and gives them advice on where they can go for testing.”