The number of gonorrhea cases in Snohomish County has increased nearly 50 percent in the past year and the county health department says to take it seriously — left untreated, it can cause serious harm.
In 2012, there were 168 reported cases of gonorrhea in Snohomish County; that number rose to 249 in 2013.
Gonorrhea rates statewide have climbed steadily since 2010, but state health officials are unable to pinpoint the specific causes. Several counties, including Snohomish County, have reached outbreak levels of the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year in the U.S., half among young people ages 15-24. In Snohomish County, about one-third of new gonorrhea cases in 2013 were in young people ages 15-24.
Among sexually transmitted infections, gonorrhea is second only to chlamydia. Gonorrhea spreads through unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with an infected partner. The infection often has no symptoms, particularly among women. Even when a woman has symptoms, they often are mild and can be mistaken for a bladder infection or other vaginal infection. Untreated, gonorrhea infection can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and higher risk of HIV transmission. The only certain way to know if you are infected is to be tested.
“Gonorrhea is a serious disease,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, Health Officer and Director of the Snohomish Health District, the county’s public health agency. “Fortunately, antibiotic treatment is effective and accessible. However, it is far better to avoid infection in the first place. Take precautions to keep the bacteria from spreading.”
Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea, but risk can be reduced by consistent and correct use of condoms, partner treatment and mutual monogamy. The Health District also recommends routine screening for sexually active people. Both testing and treatment are readily available locally at doctors’ offices, hospitals, and clinics – call ahead to inquire about fees.
Snohomish Health District offers a free confidential service to notify partners of their exposure to gonorrhea infection. SHD provides free antibiotics to contacts of gonorrhea-positive individuals. Call 425-339-5261 for more information.