PORTLAND, Ore. — A gonorrhea epidemic has hit Oregon amid public health concerns that the disease is becoming immune to standard treatment, the Oregonian reports.
Since 2012, cases have nearly tripled statewide, affecting just about every part of Oregon, including rural counties where infections have been traditionally low.
Officials in some counties have become so concerned that they’ve launched public awareness campaigns, with ads on dating sites, Facebook and Google. In others, specialists have gone door to door, trying to track down infected people and their partners to get them treated, the Oregonian reports.
“We came to a point where we said we have to do something,” said Tanya Phillips, health promotion manager for Jackson County.
Gonorrhea cases have risen nationwide as well, but Oregon’s rate has spiked in comparison, the Oregonian reports.
The bacteria are spread through sexual intercourse or anal or oral sex. Symptoms are often undetected in women while men can experience painful urination or a penile discharge. Untreated, gonorrhea can cause infertility, the Oregonian reports.
In 2010, the state had 28 cases per 100,000 residents. That compared with 101 per 100,000 people nationwide. In 2016, Oregon’s rate rose to 107 infections per 100,000 residents, an increase that puts it on par with the U.S. rate.
Gonorrhea no longer responds to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin that had been effective in treating it, the Oregonian reports.
“It tends to be a bacterium that becomes resistant much more easily than other bacteria to antibiotics,” said Kim Toevs, director of the sexually transmitted disease program in Multnomah County.
Providers switched to other antibiotics, including ceftriaxone and cefixime. But now the latter appears to be losing its effectiveness, with resistant cases turning up outside the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Oregonian reports.
Men, especially gay men, account for the majority of cases in Oregon and nationwide.
Public health officials suspect that’s because treatment for HIV has improved. There are now medications that protect uninfected individuals from HIV and suppress the virus in those who are infected. The drugs have helped lower new infection rates from 270 cases per 100,000 in 2012 to 220 last year, the Oregonian reports.