Gonorrhea cases increase throughout Michigan


Courtesy to MLive

Lauren Formosa

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) are common concerns for many who choose to be sexually active. Millions of STD cases are reported each year in the United States, and some don’t always cause symptoms or only cause mild symptoms, meaning that some people may be unaware that they have an infection.  

While the COVID-19 pandemic has kept many away from sexual partners this past year, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) STD Epidemiology program detected an increase in reported gonorrhea cases across the state. Michigan reported 18,264 cases in 2019, however, that number was quickly surpassed by Oct. 31 of last year, indicating a 22% increase in reported gonorrhea infections. In contrast to past years, the rate of gonorrhea cases was increasing at an average of 4% annually since 2010.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gonorrhea is an STD that is known to cause infection in the genitals, rectum and throat, and tends to be most common in young people ages 15-24. Both men and women can experience symptoms of gonorrhea, although most women tend to experience no symptoms if infected. While the CDC says the infection can be cured with correct treatment, they also state that “it is becoming harder to treat some gonorrhea, as drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are increasing.” Additionally, gonorrhea can lead to serious or permanent health problems in both men and women if left untreated.

This increase in reported gonorrhea infection throughout Michigan in tandem with the current COVID-19 outbreak has left many healthcare professions concerned. Under normal circumstances, such a large increase would call for broader statewide testing. However, “there is a national shortage of collection kits and laboratory supplies used to test for gonorrhea,” said Lynn Sutfin, Public Information Officer at MDHHS in a November press release. This could most likely be due to an underestimate of the need for STD testing during the pandemic.

“A shortage of testing supplies during a significant statewide increase in cases presents an alarming potential for a host of negative health outcomes for Michiganders,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health for MDHHS. “Because laboratory testing is challenging at this time, it is imperative that medical providers continue to clinically diagnose and treat suspected cases of gonorrhea to slow the spread in our state.”

As outlined in the CDC’s “Guidance and Resources During Disruption of STD Clinical Services,” Michigan health providers are urged to evaluate and treat patients who show signs or symptoms of gonorrhea infection, regardless of laboratory confirmation at this time. The MDHHS is working through this critical period of testing shortage to ensure those who have been exposed to the STD can still receive treatment and slow the increase of cases statewide.

While the only way to truly avoid contracting an STD is to not have vaginal, anal or oral sex, it is still important for sexually active men and women to be aware of the risks associated with sex and take steps to have protected sex with their partners as an effective means of prevention. Michiganders experiencing symptoms such as pain while urinating, increased discharge or vaginal bleeding between periods are encouraged to meet with a healthcare provider, as these can be indications of gonorrhea or other STD infections.