In the community

Local health official worried as local chlamydia cases climb above U.S. average

ONTARIO – The Malheur County Health Department is keeping a close eye on the number of chlamydia cases locally and urging those most at risk to get tested.
Between April 2022 and April 2023, the health department recorded 168 cases of the sexually transmitted disease.
“We are nearly double the state rate and still significantly above the U.S. average,” said Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director.
The spike can be attributed to a series of factors, said Poe.
She said CDC data shows a lack of awareness regarding the size of the challenge, a shortage of testing coupled with fewer healthcare providers in rural areas play key roles in the problem.
Substance abuse, she said, is also a key element in the rise in cases.
“Substance abuse is linked to risky sexual behavior, such as not using a condom and having many (sexual) partners,” said Poe.
Poe said she was particularity concerned about the number of chlamydia cases in Malheur County among those ages 15 to 19. Poe said the health department discovered 32 cases within that age group over the past year.
While Poe said the overall number of chlamydia cases has dropped over the past few years, “there is still a tremendous amount of chlamydia in the community.”
“When we know the virus is in the community, we need awareness around that and to encourage people to get tested,” said Poe.
Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease that can, if left untreated, damage a woman’s productive system. The disease can be easily treated with antibiotics.
According to state data, the highest number of chlamydia cases occurred in April 2022 and April 2023. In April 2022 the health department listed 10 cases. In April 2023 the department recorded 12 cases.
Poe noted that only a small portion of the population of sexually active people in the county are being tested for the disease.
More than 10 cases in a month is significant, said Poe.
“There would have been at time when having one case would have been shocking. Having 10 in a month, with less-than-ideal number of people tested, is a significant number because we know people are less likely to take precautions if they don’t know they are infected,” said Poe.
Testing, and then prompt treatment, are the keys to eliminating the disease, said Poe.
“Part of the reason we have so many cases is because we did not have enough testing and treatment so when our number was so high, we know the problem is not going to get solved overnight,” said Poe.
Cases of gonorrhea also fluctuated over the past year. In August 2022, the health department reported nine cases of the disease. In February there were six cases recorded but only two in April.
Poe said her department must look at all the cases of sexually transmitted diseases “for us to be successful and doing our job to protect the health of the community.”
“We need to see these numbers go down. Wear condoms. Come to the health department to be tested free and confidentially,” said Poe.
Poe said people shouldn’t be complacent about sexually transmitted diseases and adopt a “that’s not me” attitude.
“If you are in the age range of 10 to 14 all the way to 60 to 64, you are in the age ranges where we have identified chlamydia in the past year,” said Poe.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].

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