Recent data released by the Genesee County Health Department shows an “alarming” increase in gonorrhea cases at a time when testing capability is limited.
Genesee County reported 892 gonorrhea infections between January- October in 2019. During the same time period this year, the county reported 1,283 cases—a marked 44% increase.
That’s double the increase the rest of the state is seeing.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported 18,264 gonorrhea infections in 2019 by October, 22% less than they counted in the same time period this year.
GCHD Public Health Supervisor Brad Snyder said that while the department hasn’t counted the exact number of infections in Flint, due to the county’s population density many of the cases are unique to Flint.
He said it’s unclear why gonorrhea infections in particular are on the rise.
“When we started seeing the increase back in the summer, we looked at if there was any correlation between COVID cases and gonorrhea. And we didn’t see anything at that time. It could have something to do with people just being in confined spaces more. But the reason is rather unknown at this point.”
Normal circumstances would call for “broader sexual transmitted infection testing” but the nation is currently facing shortages in STI urine testing kits, according to a GCHD press release.
The shortage in these kits is directly correlated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Snyder said.
“Places that manufacture STI testing kits are also manufacturing COVID testing kits. There’s a prioritization of manufacturing [COVID testing kits] right now. Also…things are slowing down just due to COVID,” he said.
Expedited Partner Therapy, the practice of treating the sexual partners of those whom an STI is diagnosed, is one way to prevent the spread of STIs in the midst of a national testing kit shortage, stated the press release.
EPT allows obstetrician–gynecologists or other medical professionals to provide prescriptions to patients with an STI to give to their sexual partners without first examining these partners.
“This is a really important tool right now, especially with with COVID going on and with the increase in gonorrhea and other STIs,” Snyder said.
There are also alternative ways to test for gonorrhea that don’t require a urine sample.
“We have vaginal swabs to do the same testing for females…that’s a self swab that the patients are able to do themselves and we get the results in the same amount of time. For males, we can do what is called a Gram stain, which we can effectively see immediately if an individual has gonorrhea,” Snyder said.
GCHD officials also recommend practicing safe sex by correctly using condoms to prevent the spread of STIs.
Those who are sexually active and experiencing pain while urinating, unusual discharge or unusual vaginal bleeding should consult with their doctors as these are signs and symptoms of gonorrhea or another STI.
“We really want to emphasize to still come in to be tested at the health department or sexual health clinic. We still have everything we need to properly treat and diagnose STIs at this time. So don’t let this this barrier,” Snyder said.
The Genesee County Sexual Health Department is located at 3373 S. Saginaw St. Burton. Currently, testing is available by appointment only.
Free STI testing is also available at the Genesee County Free Medical Clinic on Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m located at 2437 Welch Blvd, Flint.
For any questions or for more information about sexual health, call 810-257-3139.