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STDs on the rise in northwest Minnesota

By Tu-Uyen Tran / Grand Forks Herald

Anita Cardinal, who heads up the public health agency for Pennington and Red Lake counties, said that, years ago, when she started her career, people were not as willing to seek help for sexually transmitted diseases as they are now.

Now, she said, “I think they’re much less shy.”

That’s one possible reason the reported rate of these diseases have increased in northwest Minnesota in the past several years. It’s a trend statewide but appears to be more pronounced here.

In 2013, 164 people in the region reported being infected with chlamydia and 31 reported being infected with gonorrhea, the two most common STDs, according to data from a state Department of Health report released this week.

For chlamydia, that’s an infection rate of 207 out of 100,000 people, a 54 percent increase since 2011. For gonorrhea, that’s 39 out of 100,000, a 343 percent increase.

Cardinal said her agency, Inter-County Nursing Service in Thief River Falls, gets many more questions about chlamydia than other STDs, but she didn’t know why that is.

Statewide, the infection rate for chlamydia was 353, a 10 percent increase, and for gonorrhea 73, a 70 percent increase.

The report also includes other STDs such as syphilis — 10 per 100,000, up 46 percent — and chancroid — no infections reported — but they are not broken down by county because of the small number of infections.

A separate report on HIV/AIDS won’t be released until the end of the month. In 2012, the rate of new infections was 5.9 per 100,000, up 7 percent from 2011.

Cardinal said that, from talking with people about STDs, she feels they’re much more aware of the danger today. “Years ago, it was almost hidden. People weren’t talking about it. We were educating people but it seems we weren’t openly educating; we were only educating people that ask about it.”

Her department is also fielding plenty of questions from high school students looking for information for school projects, she said.

But she has seen an unfavorable trend in testing and that’s the cost, she said. Planned Parenthood used to have an office in Thief River Falls that provided free testing years ago, she said, and now those seeking a test would have to go to a doctor’s clinic, and not everyone can afford it.

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