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Hawaii News

Sexually transmitted diseases in Hawaii are at their highest rates in decades as more people turn to online dating.
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Sexually transmitted diseases in Hawaii are at their highest rates in decades as more people turn to online dating.

State health officials recorded 7,732 cases of chlamydia, or 544.3 cases per 100,000 population, in 2018. That compares to 5,972 cases, a rate of 463.6 per 100,000 people, in 2008.

Gonorrhea more than doubled over the past 10 years at 1,496, with a rate of 105.4, compared to 611, or 47.4, while syphilis infections jumped to 180 cases, or 12.7, from 38 cases, a rate of 3 per 100,000 a decade ago.

That corresponds with the overall rates of U.S. infections from chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, which have risen for the fifth year in a row amid public health funding cuts and clinic closures.

Nationally, there were more than 1.7 million cases of chlamydia last year, the most ever reported in a single year. Gonorrhea cases rose to about 580,000, while the syphilis rate jumped 15% with about 35,000 cases of the most contagious forms of the disease reported.

Both were the highest numbers since 1991, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“All three are (near or) at their highest rates in about 30 years,” said Gerald Hasty, program coordinator for the state Department of Health Harm Reduction Services Branch. “The fact that they’re all increasing is not desirable but it’s also not unexpected.”

These infections don’t cause distinct or troubling symptoms early on so those who are infected have “absolutely no idea of it.”

“That sets the stage for the infections to be spread,” he said. “Lack of regular screenings or routine screenings contributes to increasing rates.”

State health officials also say there’s been decreasing reliance on condoms or prophylactics for people to protect themselves from acquiring or spreading STDs.

Perhaps the greatest contributor to increased rates is the prevalence of online dating, which allows for more anonymous personal encounters than in years past, according to Hasty.

Instead of meeting partners through friends, family or dating direct acquaintances, more people are using online dating services, making connections more rapidly with many more people, he said.

People in their early 20s are “always the most likely” to contract STDs because they typically have the greatest level of sexual activity and typically have more encounters than those much younger or older, he added.

“As people rely on digital means of making connections it can lead to circumstances where they might be more exposed to infection without them knowing it,” he said. “More partners, more chances to get infections.”

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