Here’s some unsettling news to contemplate over your morning coffee: The number of gonorrhea cases in Washington has jumped 34-percent since 2012. According to the Washington State Department of Health, 3,137 cases of gonorrhea were reported through September 2013, compared to 2,350 during that same time period last year.
The only good news seems to be that Washington is still below the national gonorrhea average. According to Mark Aubin, a sexually transmitted disease controller for the Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the national average for gonorrhea in 2011 to be 104 cases per 100,000 people. Washington’s 2012 average, according to Aubin, was 48 cases per 100,000.
Now you know.
According to the Department of Health, experts haven’t been able to determine a specific cause of the gonorrhea spike, though they have tracked a steady increase in the sexually transmitted disease in Washington since 2010. Not surprisingly, “young adults remain the most affected,” according to Health Department stats, despite the fact that Washington played host to this year’s National Cougar Convention.
Where you live - or, more accurately, where you’re hooking up - could increase your chances of contracting the dreaded sexual disease (which is the second most “popular” STD in Washington after chlamydia). According to the Health Department, Spokane, Yakima, Thurston, Kitsap and Benton counties are all at “outbreak levels” when it comes to reported cases of gonorrhea. Aubin explains that in order to reach “outbreak level” in Washington (a state-specific definition) a county must see a 50-percent rise in reported cases in the current quarter over the average number of reported cases over the last six quarters. Aubin also notes a couple caveats: counties with small numbers of cases are excluded, and larger counties - like King County - rarely reach outbreak status by the state’s definition simply because of the large number of cases reported there.
As Seattle Weekly reported last year, over time gonorrhea has become more and more resistant to traditional drug treatments. Though the United States hasn’t seen a completely drug-resistant case yet, most of the old-school antibiotics used to treat the disease - like penicillin - have become ineffective. The CDC proclaimed in 2012 that there’s only one medication left recommended for treating gonorrhea, the injectable antibiotic ceftriaxone.
It’s a fact not lost on the Health Department in its fight against the spread of the disease. “We’re working closely with local health agencies to actively monitor the rise in cases. We’re especially concerned because of gonorrhea’s resistance to antibiotics used to treat it,” says Aubin. “It’s important for us to assure every reported case is interviewed so the partners of infected people are identified and receive treatment.”