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Montana Gonorrhea Cases Jumped By 50% In 2018

Reported gonorrhea cases in Montana, 2012-2018.
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
Reported gonorrhea cases in Montana, 2012-2018.

Cases of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea increased by 50% in Montana in 2018. That’s according to a recent report released by the state health department.

The number of reported gonorrhea cases in the state is spiking again after state health officials reported three years of stabilizing the trend.

Prevalence of the STD started its sharp rise in 2012. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services’s latest report found the infection rate in the state is nearly 112 people per 100,000.

According to the state health department, one in three persons in Montana reported with gonorrhea live in Yellowstone County.

Kim Bailey is a registered nurse and the communicable disease program manager at Riverstone Health in Billings.

She says Riverstone has increased its efforts to get sexual partners tested and treated, and then potentially do the same with their previous partners.

"And if they test positive then we get their partners as well. So it kind of grows as a tree. It snowballs."

Despite the recent spike in cases in Montana, the rate of infection of gonorrhea in the state remains lower than the rate in the country as a whole.

Dana Fejes is the HIV and STD section supervisor for the state health department. She says, "We are seeing also a nationwide increase."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report in October indicating the U.S. is seeing the highest number of reported gonorrhea and syphilis cases since 1991.

The CDC says gonorrhea is a major public health concern across the United States, in part because gonorrhea comes with serious health risks, and the bacteria has grown resistant to almost every drug used to treat it.

The CDC says multiple factors drive the continued increase in STDs including drug use, poverty, stigma, unstable housing and decreased condom use.

The Montana health department says it’s working on a statewide media campaign raising awareness about the growing rate of STD and how to protect against infections.

Dana Fejes with DPHHS says that campaign could roll out before the end of the year and will include messages on social media platforms, including dating apps.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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