PORTLAND — A gonorrhea epidemic has hit Oregon amid public health concerns that the disease is becoming immune to standard treatment.
Gonorrhea cases have nearly tripled in Oregon since 2012, showing up in just about every part of the state, including rural counties where infections have been traditionally low.
Officials in some counties have become so concerned they’ve launched public-awareness campaigns, with ads on dating sites, Facebook and Google. In other campaigns, specialists have gone door-to-door, trying to track down infected people and their partners to get them treated.
“We came to a point where we said we have to do something,” said Tanya Phillips, health promotion manager for Jackson County.
Gonorrhea cases have risen nationwide, but Oregon’s increase is above the curve.
In 2010, the state had 28 cases per 100,000 residents. That compared with 101 per 100,000 people nationwide. In 2016, Oregon’s rate rose to 107 infections per 100,000 residents — an increase that puts it on par with the U.S. rate.
The bacteria are spread through sexual intercourse or anal or oral sex. Gonorrhea can cause infertility if it goes untreated. Recently, the sexually transmitted disease has not been responding to the antibiotic ciprofloxacin that traditionally treated it.
“It tends to be a bacterium that becomes resistant much more easily than other bacteria to antibiotics,” said Kim Toevs, director of the sexually transmitted disease program in Multnomah County.
Providers switched to other antibiotics, including ceftriaxone and cefixime. But now the latter appears to be losing its effectiveness, with resistant cases turning up outside the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There is nothing to suggest that anyone would fail treatment at this point,” said Dr. Sean Schafer, Oregon’s medical epidemiologist for sexually transmitted disease. “But we’re very concerned that gonorrhea at some point will acquire the ability to resist treatment to the main drugs we use right now.”