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Andi Murphy, Published August 03 2010

Chlamydia cases surge in Minnesota, North Dakota

Chlamydia cases in North Dakota and Minnesota are on the rise, and national numbers have more than doubled in the past 14 years.

“I think it’s most important that the people learn more about it,” Julie Wagendorf, STD program manager with the North Dakota Department of Health, said.

From 1995 to 2009, the Minnesota Department of Health reported the number of cases jumped from 6,121 to 14,186, a 231.8 percent increase. North Dakota’s Department of Health said cases during the same time rose from 1,079 to 1,958, an 81.5 percent increase.

Nationwide, the number of chlamydia cases jumped 250 percent – to 1.2 million in 2009 – over 14 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Minnesota and North Dakota, the disease is most common in women, African-Americans and adults ages 20-24.

The disease is a curable bacterial infection that sometimes progresses with no symptoms. Left untreated, it can spread to other sexual partners, cause tubal pregnancies, pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.

To create more awareness about chlamydia – the most reported communicable, sexually transmitted disease – the Minnesota Department of Health is taking a proactive approach.

Since 2003, STD screening tests have become simpler, only requiring a urine sample, Wagendorf said.

“As a result of testing more people, we’re going to find more positives,” Wagendorf said.

At Fargo Cass Public Health, personnel do STD screenings on every patient under age 24.

“Some people are distraught and upset (when they find out they have chlamydia or other STDs), and it can cause problems with relationships,” Audrey Eckes, nurse practitioner at the clinic, said. “Other people are not bothered by it.”

Because chlamydia is curable, some people might think lightly of it, but they are still at risk for infection and re-infection, Eckes said.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get people to come in,” Eckes said. “Sometimes the partners (of the infected) don’t come in.”

After treatment, Eckes talks to her patients about condom use, getting their partners treated and reducing their number of partners.

Promiscuity is not the sole cause; sometimes it takes just one partner, Eckes said.

In Minnesota, the Department of Health is taking a unique step in battling the disease by forming the Minnesota Chlamydia Partnership with statewide youth-associated social groups, nonprofits and organizations to find ways to address the problem and take action. They are also welcoming businesses, politicians, health insurers and providers and community-based organizations to join the partnership.

The partnership formation and kick-off event today in St. Paul will be broadcast online at nine sites, including Minnesota State University Moorhead.

“We’re trying to call an issue to chlamydia in Minnesota as a public health issue,” Peter Carr, STD and HIV section manager at the Minnesota Department of Health, said.

They are looking for ways that organizations can be proactive in reaching out to the at-risk populations across the state.

“It would make sense for North Dakota health providers to know what we’re doing and maybe get involved,” Carr said.

Since chlamydia cases are growing but the Department of Health’s budget is not, Candy Hadsall, the department’s STD screening specialist, came up with the idea to form the partnership.

“This is a national problem. Our problem here is not unique,” Hadsall said. “Our numbers are so high and our funding is so low that the Department of Health can’t work alone.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Andi Murphy at (701) 235-7311