The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) reports cases of gonorrhea increased by 1,000 in 2017 for a total of 3,600 cases. The number of cases have increased by 145% since 2013.

Health Department STD Program Manager George Walton says the gonorrhea increase has been more noticeable in one group.

“The increase in men has been faster. So, we suspect part of that is it is becoming more concentrated in some populations — so for example, gay men and men who have sex with men — the infection is being introduced more in those populations and spread throughout,” Walton says. He says once gonorrhea is introduced in a particular population, it can spread quickly.

“We seen that already with our African-American populations, it can get into a relatively small population and it doesn’t take very many infected individuals before that infection can spread very quickly within that small population,” Walton says. Just under 30 percent of the gonorrhea diagnoses occur in African-Americans — a group that makes up about 3.5% of the population. About 80 percent of the overall cases are among people who are between 15 to 34 years of age.

Walton says the knowing the sexual history of the person you are with is a key to preventing the spread of the disease. “It’s not only about you and the number of sex partners that you have — but also the sex partners that your sex partner has,” Walton says. “So it’s not uncommon for an individual to have one sex partner for example, but perhaps their sex partner has others and that individual has more chances to be exposed to the infection.”

He says the numbers for gonorrhea are a concern when compared with other diseases, as there have been increases in other STD’s monitored by the Health Department, but he says they haven’t had the steep increases that they’ve seen with gonorrhea. “That’s why with gonorrhea we suspect that it’s being introduced into more multiple populations than we’ve seen in the past.” Walton says factors such as neighborhood location, economic opportunity, income, rates of incarceration and even the number of alcohol outlets in particular neighborhoods have been associated with higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases in some populations.

Walton says gonorrhea can cause problems in the reproductive systems of both men and women. “Gonorrhea, unlike chlaymidia can spread throughout the body, it can spread beyond the reproductive track,” Walton says, “so untreated it could get into other parts of the body such as the joints, the bloodstream, and in very severe cases it could even cause death.” Walton says the Health Department

“Certainly awareness is a place that we like to start. Making sure that folks are aware of the increases so that they can be proactive about their health as individuals,” according to Walton. He says one of the ways you can be proactive is to get tested for the disease so you can undergo treatment and avoid spreading it.