Online dating shares blame for gonorrhea, STD increase


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FOND DU LAC – Fond du Lac County’s spike in sexually transmitted diseases follows a nationwide trend, blamed — in part — to hooking up online.

But Planned Parenthood says a lack of access to preventive health care services is to blame, since five of its clinics were shuttered in 2014 due to lack of funding.

Cases of gonorrhea tripled from 35 in 2015 to 104 last year, per an annual report from the Fond du Lac County Health Department.

Chlamydia, another common STD, jumped to 330 cases last year — up from 294 instances in 2015.

Youths seem to bear a “disproportionate share” of sexually transmitted infections in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 70 percent of the gonorrhea cases and 63 percent of the 2.9 million chlamydia cases, nationwide, are seen in people ages 15 to 24

The remaining 30 and 37 percent, respectively, are found in adults age 25 and older, according to the center’s website.

Social media may play a part in the resurgence of STDs, said Stephanie Smiley, director of the communicable diseases bureau of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

“There are different ways to meet partners,” Smiley said on the department’s website. “We want to make sure that people understand that even if you’re meeting people online and things like that, we want to make sure you’re taking precautions and that you’re getting tested.”

Fond du Lac County’s STD statistics rank them fifth highest in chlamydia cases and fourth highest in gonorrhea cases in 2015 within a 17-county, northeast region of the state, according to DHS.

Brown County tops that list, with 1,024 cases of chlamydia and 130 cases of gonorrhea.

Nicole Safar, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, says certainly people were having unprotected sex long before the Internet.

“There isn’t any evidence to suggest how you meet your partner has any correlation with an increase in STD cases, she said, “but we do know that easy, affordable treatment helps stop the spread of disease.”

Safar points to the fact Fond du Lac County’s Planned Parenthood was among the five clinics that closed in 2014, after funding was cut from Gov. Scott Walker’s budget. The closest clinics remain in Oshkosh and Appleton to the north, and West Bend to the south.

“We’ve seen similar numbers like this in Shawano County, which has been designated a new hot spot for chlamydia,” Safar said. “They also lost their clinic and we are certain there are people who were getting care and no longer have access to a local health center.”

Overall, the northeastern region saw 3,864 cases of chlamydia, 325 cases of gonorrhea and 22 cases of syphilis, for a total of 4,211, or a rate of 349 STDs per 100,000 people.

While the number is an increase over 2014’s total of 3,933, it’s on par with the early 2010s: 4,420 cases in 2011, 4,324 in 2012, 4,127 in 2013.

According to DHS, chlamydia in the northeastern region is at a 10-year high, while gonorrhea is at a 10-year low.

There were 22 cases of syphilis in the region in 2015. As a less-common disease, however, trends are harder to spot. In the past 10 years, syphilis saw a spike of 29 and 28 cases in 2012 and 2013, respectively but also a low of seven cases in 2010.

Fond du Lac County Health Officer Kim Mueller said her role in fighting the spread involves contacting persons who are reported to have had an STD, as well as any sexual partners that person may have been with.

Following the trail can prove difficult, she said, in this age of technology. STDs in the county are most prevalent within the 20 to 30 age group, she said, and can also be attributed to increased drug activity and prostitution — also easily accessible online.

“I am contacting them to follow up and make sure they are getting treatment and some people will tell me about their partners,” Mueller said. “But more often lately there are people who only knew their sexual partners by an online username, not the person’s real name, and maybe they will never see that person again.”

Sexually transmitted disease cases in the Northeast Region, in 2015, listed alphabetically:

  • Brown County (estimated 2016 population of 260,401): 1,024 chlamydia, 130 gonorrhea, 11 syphilis. 
  • Calumet County (est. 49,553): 108 chlamydia, 6 gonorrhea, 0 syphilis.
  • Door County (est. 27,587): 43 chlamydia, 2 gonorrhea, 1 syphilis.
  • Fond du Lac County (est. 102,144): 292 chlamydia, 32 gonorrhea, 1 syphilis.
  • Green Lake County (est. 18,719): 43 chlamydia, 2 gonorrhea, 0 syphilis.
  • Kewaunee County (est. 20,405): 35 chlamydia, 1 gonorrhea, 0 syphilis.
  • Manitowoc County (est. 79,536): 204 chlamydia, 19 gonorrhea, 2 syphilis.
  • Marinette County (est. 40,491): 95 chlamydia, 4 gonorrhea, 0 syphilis.
  • Marquette County (est. 15,067): 30 chlamydia, 2 gonorrhea, 0 syphilis.
  • Menominee County (est. 4,533): 36 chlamydia, 1 gonorrhea, 1 syphilis.
  • Oconto County (est. 37,430): 98 chlamydia, 6 gonorrhea, 0 syphilis.
  • Outagamie County (est. 184,526): 588 chlamydia, 42 gonorrhea, 2 syphilis.
  • Shawano County (est. 41,062): 119 chlamydia, 5 gonorrhea, 1 syphilis.
  • Sheboygan County (est. 115,427): 332 chlamydia, 28 gonorrhea, 1 syphilis.
  • Waupaca County (est. 51,533): 121 chlamydia, 2 gonorrhea, 0 syphilis.
  • Waushara County (est. 24,162): 46 chlamydia, 1 gonorrhea, 0 syphilis.
  • Winnebago County (est. 169,886): 650 chlamydia, 42 gonorrhea, 2 syphilis.

 


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