|October 24, 2013
Increase of gonorrhea reported on Flathead Reservation
By B.L. Azure — THHS PIO
ST. IGNATIUS — This year Lake County and in particular the Flathead Reservation has had an up-spike in reported cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia. An overwhelming percentage of the diagnosed cases are among the American Indian community.
According to Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services 2013 data there have been 32 reported cases of gonorrhea from January 1 through October 10, in Lake County and the Flathead Reservation. Twenty-one of the cases were female and 11 were male — 25 of the reported cases were American Indians. The average age of the individuals is 24 years of age.
In contrast, in 2012 Lake County and the Flathead Reservation had 12 reported cases of gonorrhea.
There were also 103 cases of chlamydia reported. Among the reported cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia, 15 people had both. In all 89 of the 119 clients with chlamydia, gonorrhea or both were beneficiaries of Tribal Health.
“In the 16 years that I’ve been with Tribal Health I have never seen such high numbers,” said Tammy Matt, acting Tribal Health and Human Services (THHS) Community Health Division manager. “For many years we had minimal numbers of cases of gonorrhea but now we are seeing epidemic like numbers. It is really scary and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.”
The Ronan-Pablo area is where most of the cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are reported and where many of the cases remain open.
“It’s always been that way, that area is the hot spot on the reservation,” Matt said. “Because of the high number of cases on the reservation, the state has recommended that we retest those who have been diagnosed with gonorrhea.”
Matt said a huge concern for THHS is the open or outstanding cases. That is where people diagnosed with gonorrhea have not followed through with information about their sexual contacts, or if they have contacting the sexual partners has proven to be very difficult.
“We test, diagnose, treat and do follow-up. When we conduct an investigation we ask about a person’s sexual history and who they had sexual contact with in a the past three to six months,” Matt said, adding that if they make the contacts then they have to request the same information from that person due to, among other things, the quick incubation time of gonorrhea. “The big hang up is contacting the (sexual) contacts of the people diagnosed with gonorrhea.”
Sexually transmitted diseases data in Montana are monitored by the Montana DPHHS and it issues the information weekly to the 56 counties and Tribal Nations. Tribal Health also gets reports from the Lake County Health Department when that entity does lab reports.
Matt said youthful ignorance of STDs adds to the increase of them. “Young people feel they are invincible,” she said. “Many of the young individuals don’t use condoms and that is the beginning of a vicious circle. Three weeks ago we had five new cases in one week for a total of 12 new cases in September.”
Adding to the concern is that gonorrhea has progressively developed resistance to the antibiotic drugs used to treat it.
Matt said people need to practice safe sex if they don’t know the sexual history of their potential sexual contact especially women who are pregnant due to the potential of birth defects.