Health officials across the Northwest are trying to figure out why they’re seeing a big upswing in the number of people with gonorrhea this year.
Washington announced Thursday five counties are in the midst of an outbreak of the infection.
The Washington outbreaks are in Spokane, Benton, Yakima, Kitsap and Thurston counties. Overall, the state has seen a 34 percent increase in gonorrhea cases over this time last year.
Gonorrhea, also known as “the clap,” is a bacterial infection passed through sexual contact. People who get the disease – particularly women – may not have any symptoms. But the infection can cause serious health complications, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.
Mark Aubin, STD controller at Washington's health department, says it doesn't appear that the increase is due to more people getting tested.
“We do have contact with the major labs in our state," he says. "As far as we know, this is an increase in the disease and we're not sure exactly why this increase is happening.”
Aubin says health officials are on high-alert for gonorrhea because it has a history of becoming resistant to treatments.
Oregon has also seen an increase this year – in particular in Lane County. In Idaho, the number of cases of gonorrhea in the northern part of the state has increased three-fold over last year.
The Washington Health Department has asked health providers in the outbreak areas to step up STD screening of patients. The state offers expedited partner therapy, which allows sexual partners of people diagnosed with gonorrhea to automatically receive medication.
On the Web:
Gonorrhea overview - Centers for Disease Control
Gonorrhea incidence rates - Washington Department of Health