Snohomish County faces sexually transmitted disease crisis

EVERETT — Sexually transmitted disease cases are increasing at such alarming rates that public health officials say Snohomish County is having an STD crisis.

Gonorrhea cases increased 243 percent from 2011 to 2016. Syphilis cases grew by 112 percent and chlamydia cases rose 40 percent, according to the Snohomish Health District.

“I was just looking at preliminary data through May, and we’re on pace to have even higher numbers than 2016,” said Jeff Ketchel, the health district’s interim administrator.

Part of the reason may be that with drugs to treat HIV, there’s less emphasis on condom use, which prevents the spread of other STDs as well, he said.

Meet-up apps make it a lot easier for people to connect with a partner anonymously and discreetly. “It’s a one-time thing,” Ketchel said.

Anyone having unprotected sex with multiple partners should be tested frequently for STDs, he said.

Public health funding has faced steep cuts, Ketchel said. “If we had more resources, we could do more education and prevention.”

The health district in 2009 closed its STD clinic, which offered testing and treatment. “We could get people treated quickly,” said Nancy Furness, the health district’s director of prevention services.

The public health agency does some limited testing of people at high risk of infection. Most people have to go to area medical clinics for testing. Some people are reluctant to go to their primary care physicians to get tested, Furness said.

Condoms are the best protection against STDs. “Nobody is immune,” Ketchel said. “If you’re looking to have sex, you can’t just look at them and know if they’re free of disease.”

Snohomish County isn’t alone in seeing a rise in STD cases. Increases are being seen statewide and nationally, Furness said.

Chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics. But some strains of gonorrhea are antibiotic-resistant. “That’s something we’re bracing ourselves for in Washington,” Ketchel said.

Chlamydia, among the nation’s most commonly reported STD, affects more women than men. The disease is especially prevalent among young women, with 28 percent of all local cases among 15- to 19-year-olds. Forty percent of local cases were among women 20 to 24 years old. Some cases also were reported among girls younger than 14.

The disease can make it difficult or impossible for a woman to get pregnant.

In men, 83 percent of local cases were among 15- to 34-year olds.

Gonorrhea sometimes has no symptoms. But it can cause a burning sensation when urinating in men and women. Women may confuse this with a bladder or vaginal infection.

More men are infected than women. Some 42 percent of infected men in Snohomish County were between 25 to 34 years old.

About half the local cases in women were among those 15 to 24.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea in women can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, miscarriage, and infections in infants. In men the diseases can cause inflammation of the urethra, urethral scarring, and other problems.

Syphilis is most common among men. Locally, 80 percent of cases were among men who have sex with men. The highest rates are among 25- to 34-year-olds.

It can cause sores, and as the disease progresses, rashes, organ damage and death.

If untreated in pregnant women, it can infect the fetus, causing physical and developmental disabilities.

The health district broke down the number of cases from 2011 to 2016 by city, with the biggest numbers generally in the cities with the largest populations, such as Everett, Lynnwood and Marysville.

Information on which cities had the highest rates of infection was not available.

The health district is working with area clinics to ensure infected partners get treatment medications quickly.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

Sexually transmitted disease cases in Snohomish County, 2011-16
  Chlamydia Gonorrhea Syphilis All 3
Arlington 624 89 18 731
Bothell 784 114 30 928
Brier 64 8 <5 74
Darrington 33 8 41
Edmonds 650 94 29 773
Everett 3,644 750 140 4,534
Gold Bar 70 <5 73
Granite Falls 150 27 <5 181
Index <5 <5 <5
Lake Stevens 691 117 8 816
Lynnwood 1,672 309 70 2,051
Marysville 1,428 230 19 1,677
Mill Creek 230 39 8 277
Monroe 405 46 5 456
Mountlake Terrace 391 57 5 453
Mukilteo 262 38 9 309
North Lakewood <5 <5
Silvana 6 6
Snohomish 653 83 15 751
Stanwood 251 45 <5 297
Startup <5 <5
Sultan 115 13 128
Woodinville 39 6 <5 47
Woodway 5 5

Notes: Numbers for the Arlington, Darrington, Marysville and Stanwood areas include Indian tribes. Bothell and Woodinville numbers exclude cases in King County. In areas with fewer than five cases, the exact number is not specified to protect patient privacy.

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