Gonorrhea on the rise in Utah, health experts say

Posted at 8:42 PM, Mar 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-28 22:42:37-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Gonorrhea is spreading like wildfire in Utah and it’s concerning state health officials like HIV/STD Epidemiologist Matthew Mietchen.

“We’re talking over a 700 percent increase in just a few years,” Mietchen said.

According to the Utah State Health Department, the cases have jumped from 310 in 2010 to a preliminary figure of 1,564 in 2015.

Experts say the communities affected are changing as well. While cases in young men and women in their 20s continue to rise, the health department is also seeing older people affected.

“Some of the largest increases is  -- were talking anywhere from seeing one to two cases a year to seeing 20-30 cases in a year are among age groups like 30- 35-year-olds up to 40- 45-year-olds,” Mietchen said.

The most cases are in Salt Lake County, followed by Davis, Weber and Morgan counties.

While the data is clear, the reasons why are not. One may be the popularity of dating apps like Tinder.

“When we talk to people, more and more young people are using dating apps to find casual partners,” Mietchen said.

The other issue is likely due to restrictions on sex education in the state. According to Utah law, teachers can discuss contraception but not where to get it and the emphasis is on abstinence.

To supplement the education offered in school, Planned Parenthood provides some after school programs in the Salt Lake City School District. It’s a program that is currently at risk, according to Planned Parenthood of Utah Education Director, Annabel Scheinberg.

In August, Gov. Gary Herbert expressed some concern with the state health department contracting with Planned Parenthood to provide these education programs, Scheinberg said.

However, health experts everywhere say the education starts at home.

“Parents are very influential in helping protect their teens from STDs or pregnancy,” Scheinberg said.

Utah still has better numbers compared to the rest of the country. Utah's gonorrhea rate is about one-fifth of the national average.