The Malheur County Health Department stocks free condoms at the front desk and inside their restroom. (The Enterprise/file photo)

ONTARIO – Malheur County had the third highest rate of the disease chlamydia in the state last year, according to a recent Oregon Health Authority report.

So far this year, the county has seen 159 cases of chlamydia. Neighboring Baker County has had 41 cases in that same time frame and Harney County had nine. The county’s rate of infection last year was 589 per every 100,000 people – just behind Multnomah with a rate of 671 and higher than the state rate of 456 per every 100,000 people. Jefferson County had the highest rate of infection with 700 chlamydia infections for every 100,000 people.

The sexually transmitted disease is sometimes hard to spot, said Tana Waller, communicable disease coordinator at the Malheur County Health Department.

“With chlamydia, people often don’t realize they have an infection so they may go without testing,” said Waller, a registered nurse.

Patients with chlamydia often don’t have symptoms, she added. Symptoms include a burning sensation during urination, discharge, pelvic pain or bleeding during sex. The infection can also be found in the throat and rectum.

Last year, Malheur County reported 188 cases of the infection.

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“I just want people to know that the good thing is we provide confidential testing,” Waller said. “You don’t have to be ashamed. The best thing is to come in or go to your health care provider.”

Waller said it’s unclear what drives the local numbers. Being on the state line, Waller said testing is also provided for Idaho residents. A small portion of the data may also come from the Snake River Correctional Institution, however, Waller said the 159 cases are Malheur County residents.

All ages are represented in the data, but the primary age range is 20-29 years old, with people as young as 14 testing positive for chlamydia.

“We’re working with the local schools to come up with a plan to provide education,” Waller said.

The health department offers testing at its Ontario location at 1108 S.W. 4th St.

For those who are uninsured and under 24 years old, state grants cover the cost of testing and medication.

The department also offers fees on a sliding scale. Often times, the testing is done at no cost. No one is turned away for lack of payment or lack of insurance.

It’s quick, painless and confidential, Waller said. Testing takes about 30 minutes and is noninvasive, meaning patients take a cotton swab of their genital area themselves. For men the screening involves a urine sample. 

Waller said the department treats chlamydia patients with a one-time dose of azithromycin, an antibiotic taken orally and the recommended treatment by the federal Centers for Disease Control. Patients take a pill and are usually out of the woods in about a week.

The most important part after that is contacting the patient’s sexual partners, said Waller, who may unknowingly be carrying the infection around.

“If we don’t get patients treated, we just get reinfections,” Waller said, adding that any patient who is too shy to call their partners can have someone at the agency reach out confidentially to let the person know they may be infected.

Waller advises patients to come in for testing about 7 to 21 days after they have sex with a new partner.

An untreated infection can lead to scar tissue and fertility issues in both men and women.

The agency offers free condoms at the front desk and in cubby holes inside the bathroom.

“Often times new partners come in together for testing,” she said. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Have a news tip? Reporter Yadira Lopez: [email protected] or 541-473-3377

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