Public health officials in the Northwest say a series of gonorrhea outbreaks shows little sign of letting up. In fact, in some places, rates of the STD may be getting worse.
And the timing of the increases has experts worried.
A particularly striking data point out of Washington's Yakima County is this: By the end of last year, gonorrhea cases had increased 123 percent over the previous year.
Preliminary figures show Spokane, Benton and Kitsap counties also had nearly double the infections. Gonorrhea cases were closing in a record in north Idaho and Oregon's Lane County quadrupled its five-year average in 2013, according to the public health department.
Washington STD controller Mark Aubin says the state has moved more staff to gonorrhea cases. But he says, it's hard to identify any one factor driving the rise.
“We've been interviewing more of the cases. And we do ask certain behavioral questions," says Aubin. "One of them is about drug use. And that's one of the things we're looking at closely. We don't have enough information yet though.”
Strains of gonorrhea resistant to antibiotics have shown up elsewhere in the world and public health officials say they don't have another treatment option ready if so-called “super” gonorrhea arrives here.
But so far, gonorrhea is completely treatable in the U.S. The disease can be asymptomatic, especially in women. It can lead to serious health problems if left untreated.