Gonorrhea Is Up Over 400%... in Utah

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One of the few places one might expect to find a soaring rate of gonorrhea infection is the piously conservative state of Utah. But, new CDC data shows that the incidence of gonorrhea is up over 400% in merely three years, from 2011 to 2014. (See graph.)

As shown, the rate of gonorrhea fell from 2009 to 2011, but then surged thereafter. Men suffered a nearly 300% increase in cases, while women experienced a 719% increase. Overall, gonorrhea is more common among men (61% of cases) than women (39% of cases), and the demographic hit hardest were those people aged 20 to 34 years. 

What is going on?

The CDC believes that because the proportion of women who are diagnosed with gonorrhea has been increasing in Utah, this suggests that heterosexual transmission of the disease has also been increasing. (Until 2012, in Utah, transmission of gonorrhea among men who have sex with men was most common.)

Though the report does not mention this, it also seems likely that the once common fear of STDs (particularly HIV) has greatly subsided, and people are engaging in riskier sex.

The media site Vocativ decided that politics was the best explanation, blaming the state's abstinence-based sex education. But this makes little sense given other data. For comparison, see the national incidence of gonorrhea in the graph above. Even after Utah's 400% increase, the incidence there is still only about half of the national rate. Overall, according to the CDC, Utah ranks 43rd in terms of gonorrhea incidence.

In case you're curious, #1 goes to Louisiana, with a rate of 194.6 per 100,000. Congratulations!

Source: Watson J, Carlile J, Dunn A, et al. "Increased Gonorrhea Cases — Utah, 2009–2014." MMWR. 65 (34): 889–893. Published: 2-Sept-2016. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6534a1

Source: "2014 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surveillance." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Page last updated 17-Nov-2015.