Soaring gonorrhea rate spurs state campaign
State health officials are trying to reduce a leaping gonorrhea rate with more public awareness about sexually transmitted diseases and increased screening.
The Hawaii rate more than doubled from 39.8 cases per 100,000 population in 2000 to 81.1 in 2005, said Peter Whiticar, chief of the health department's STD/AIDS Prevention Branch. That translates to 483 gonorrhea cases in 2000 and 1,024 cases in 2005, he said.
Hawaii is one of eight western states that had an increase over five years, while other states had declines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported. The infection rate increased 52 percent overall for the eight states, which historically had lower rates than the other regions, the CDC said.
STD services are free and confidential. Call 733-9281 for more information or visit the Department of Health Web site, www.hawaii.gov/health, and look for STD.
The STD/HIV Clinic is at the Diamond Head Health Center, 3627 Kilauea Ave.
Gonorrhea, a bacterial infection, is one of the oldest known sexually transmitted diseases. Symptoms include a yellowish discharge and painful or burning urination. Many women don't have any symptoms. Untreated, it can lead to serious pelvic infections and infertility, according to the medical literature.
One reason for Hawaii's rising gonorrhea rate is more screening and more sensitive tests, "so cases undetected before are being detected," Whiticar said. "The good news is, if you identify them you can treat them, and if you treat them successfully, that's the end of that transmission."
The risk for transmitting gonorrhea is the same as for chlamydia, syphilis or HIV, Whiticar said. And there is a concern that risky sexual behavior is increasing, he said.
When HIV was out of control, people changed high-risk sexual activities, he said. "Now they're feeling less vulnerable, and it appears that nationally there are higher levels of risk behavior, particularly among young people."
People who are infected are encouraged to get tested and treated to reduce the risk to partners, he said.
The National Council of STD Directors is calling for increased funding for states to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases with education, testing and treatment, according to a news release.
Also, the council is asking the drug industry to commit more funding to developing new STD medications because of drug-resistant gonorrhea infections.
The first case of drug-resistant gonorrhea was identified in Hawaii, Whiticar said, adding that the health department worked with the CDC on the case.