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    Maryland marks STD Awareness Month with warning about trio of diseases

    Health Dept. sees one-year 40% increase in gonorrhea cases, urges testing

    Baltimore, MD (April 4, 2017) – To mark National Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness Month, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is reminding residents to get tested for sexually transmitted infections. This warning coincides with a disturbing trend across the United States: Approximately 20 million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) occur every year.
    Almost half of those cases occur in people ages 15 to 24, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Reported cases of three infections – chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis – were at an all-time high across the nation in 2015, the most recent year for which national data are available. Of that trio of infections, Maryland public health officials are concerned most about significant increases in gonorrhea. Preliminary 2016 data indicate a nearly 40 percent increase in reported cases of gonorrhea, when compared with 2015 data. When compared with reported cases going back to 2012 (when rates first began slowly climbing), the increase is 67 percent.
    Of the 9,482 cases of gonorrhea reported in 2016, 59 percent were among males, a proportion that has grown over time. In 2012, 49 percent of gonorrhea cases were among males. In 2016, the group most affected by gonorrhea continued to be people ages 15 to 24, constituting 48 percent of cases, while they constituted only 13 percent of Maryland’s population.
    “Nationally and here in Maryland, we’re seeing a worsening epidemic of sexually transmitted infections,” said Dr. Howard M. Haft, Deputy Secretary of Public Health Services at Health and Mental Hygiene. “Marylanders can take charge of their health by choosing abstinence as the surest way to avoid infections. If they’re sexually active, they should use condoms consistently, should choose to be monogamous, should get tested for STIs and should ask partners to get tested, too. Clinicians should obtain a thorough sexual history on every patient, should test patients at all sites of exposure, and should consider Expedited Partner Therapy for partners who won’t be able to get a prompt evaluation.” 
    Expedited Partner Therapy is intended for treating those sex partners of patients with chlamydia or gonorrhea who are unlikely or unable to obtain a timely medical examination. It is a voluntary clinical practice of prescribing or dispensing antibiotics to a patient to deliver to his or her partners, and it is recommended by the CDC and endorsed by numerous national medical organizations. For information on Expedited Partner Therapy in Maryland, go to https://goo.gl/V9OZsy.
    Gonorrhea, like many STIs, most often produces no symptoms. Left untreated, though, STIs can cause serious health consequences, especially in women – such as pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility. Some STIs cause cancers of the rectum, cervix, genitals and throat, and having an STI increases a person’s risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV infection. And, ongoing transmission of STIs can lead to antibiotic resistance. Gonorrhea has become resistant to all but one class of antibiotics previously used to treat it, cephalosporins, resulting in a global crisis. Health care providers should be vigilant and only treat patients in clinical settings using the current CDC-recommended dual therapy: 250 mg ceftriaxone intramuscularly in a single dose and 1 gram azithromycin orally in a single dose.
    A critical component of gonorrhea prevention and control is annual gonorrhea testing for certain groups: all pregnant women; all sexually active women under 25; and women 25 and older at increased risk of infection (e.g., those who have a new sex partner, more than one sex partner, a sex partner with other current partners, a sex partner who has an STI, inconsistent condom use if not in a monogamous relationship, or exchanging sex for money or drugs). Gonorrhea testing for men who have sex with men is recommended at least once each year – at all anatomical areas of sexual contact – whether condoms were used, and every three to six months if at the increased risks described above. Ask your health care provider about getting tested and treated. Testing for gonorrhea is easy, and the infection is easy to cure with antibiotic medications.
    Free webinar for health care providers
    Health and Mental Hygiene is co-sponsoring a free, live webinar for health care providers, “Preventing and Managing Congenital Zika and Congenital Syphilis Infections,” that will be held Wednesday, April 19, 2017, from noon to 1 p.m. The webinar will cover epidemiology, risk factors, diagnostic challenges and management of Congenital Syphilis and Congenital Zika Syndromes. To view the webinar, log on to www.jhsph.edu/maphtc at the time of the live webcast. The archived webinar will be available the following week.
    For information about STIs, including how to find STI testing and treatment locations, go to the Health and Mental Hygiene website: https://goo.gl/p5TCO1. For CDC information about Expedited Partner Therapy, go to: https://www.cdc.gov/std/ept/, and specifically about Expedited Partner Therapy and gonorrhea, go to: https://www.cdc.gov/std/ept/gc-guidance.htm.