Public health officials say the rise in cases of the STD gonorrhea has continued unabated this year in much of the Northwest.
Now there’s a worrisome development: evidence of drug resistance in some cases west of the Cascades.
Dr. Matt Golden with the Seattle STD/HIV Prevention Training Center recently sent a memo out to providers about gonorrhea. He said since last year his office has discovered 25 cases resistant to the drug Azithromycin.
“The concern here is that we’re using two drugs to treat gonorrhea to stave off resistance in many ways. And Azithromycin is one of those two drugs,” Golden said. “So to see this one -- the microorganism become resistant to the drug is a problem.”
He said the resistant cases so far have all been in men who have sex with men.
In Oregon, drug-resistance has also been detected in some lab tests from the Portland area.
Gonorrhea remains fully treatable in the U.S. But cases immune to the other main drug used to treat gonorrhea have been found in parts of Asia and Europe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recognizing the risk, recently changed its guidelines to avoid treating patients with Azithromycin alone.
Public health officials say it’s normal for STDs to go through cycles. And the Northwest’s rates still tend to comparatively low historically and compared with other parts of the country.
But the increase over the last five years has been notable for its unusual prevalence in a variety of demographic groups and in rural areas. There’s been a near doubling of cases in north Idaho over the same period last year, from 17 during January to May last year, up to 32 this year.
Oregon has a 10-15 percent over last year’s already high numbers, including in some unexpected areas in southern Oregon.
Washington saw a 26 percent increase, with very striking numbers in some counties. Adams County on the eastern side of the state had 16 cases this year through May, compared with 1 case during the same period last year, amounting to a 1,500 percent increase.