With the number of people flocking to western North Dakota to work in the oil fields, one might expect the number of sexually transmitted diseases to be going up drastically. But that might not be the case.
According to Sarah Weininger, epidemiologist with the North Dakota Department of Health, case numbers for both chlamydia and gonorrhea have increased. There has been a 20 percent increase in gonorrhea and have had an exponential increase in that since 2009, she said, with 151 cases in 2009 and over 300 in 2012. However, in looking at the numbers, the counties with the increase in sexually transmitted diseases are not in the oil field, Weininger noted.
The increase occurred in Cass County, which has doubled, and Rolette County has also seen an increase. Ward County, on the other hand, saw a 52 percent decrease in gonorrhea cases, Weininger added. "With more people moving in, you'd think there would be more (cases)."
First District Health Unit, Minot, shown in this photo, located at 801-11th Ave. S.W., offers testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. For people living in oil country like Crosby, Watford City, Stanley, or Williston, the Upper Missouri District Health Unit offers similar services for those needing testing or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.
The biggest disparity for sexually transmitted diseases is on American Indian reservations, including the counties of Sioux, Mountrail, Benson and Rolette, Weininger said. It has seemingly always been that way, though, she added.
There were more cases of chlamydia than gonorrhea in 2011, Weininger said, and Williams County ranked higher for chlamydia cases. In 2008, that county had 39 cases of chlamydia and in 2012, there have been 138 cases, she added. "Their population has significantly increased during that time," Weininger remarked about the jump in cases.
However, data is not collected about the person's occupation when gathering information about sexually transmitted diseases, Weininger said. "Chlamydia is not isolated to one part of the state," she also said. "It always seems to go up no matter what."
The increase in gonorrhea for 2011 was among males, Weininger noted. That increase could be due to how clinics are getting better at screening for sexually transmitted diseases in women, she thought. "Men only get screened if their partner is tested as positive."
Weininger said the North Dakota State Health Department has received calls from people in western North Dakota who are experiencing symptoms and don't know where to go, so they go to Bismarck. "There's a lack of a place to go for medical services that are prompt and reliable in western North Dakota," she remarked.
"You would think STDs would increase in western North Dakota," Weininger said. People in the oil fields could have a sexually transmitted disease, she continued, but they typically get treated back in their home state and that wouldn't be documented in North Dakota. It's possible that more cases are being reported out of state, so there could be a discrepancy of data, she also said.
However, according to Leslie Sullivan, Mercy Medical Center Foundation, Williston, they are currently not seeing a significant increase of sexually transmitted diseases at Mercy Medical Center. She thought that the Upper Missouri District Health Unit in Williston might tell a different story. They promote early detection and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, including noninvasive testing for chlamydia and gonorrhea, which are the most common sexually transmitted diseases diagnosed in the area.
Gonorrhea has increased, but it's not new, Weininger noted, and there has also been an increase in both latent and non-latent syphilis. "Syphilis is slowly trickling in and physicians aren't as familiar with it, so we have to do a lot of education to health care providers about that."
Treatment for chlamydia and gonorrhea consist of antibiotics, Weininger said, while treatment for syphilis consists of penicillin. Symptoms for them are not present a lot of times, though, she added. If tested and treated, the diseases will go away, Weininger said, but there isn't a cure. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are all bacterial, she also said. However, human papilloma virus, or HPV, is a virus, so it's important to get vaccinated, Weininger added.
"If you're sexually active with one or more person and not using protection, you should be tested," Weininger instructed. "People need to use safe sexual practices and get tested for STDs."
The best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases is abstinence, followed by condom use, Weininger said. Other prevention methods include limiting the number of sexual partners and getting tested and treated. "Some (sexually transmitted diseases) can lead to infertility if not treated."
"We have a good website on www.ndhealth.gov called 'Know Your Risk,'" Weininger noted. "It has a confidential questionnaire that you can fill out and it will tell you if you're at risk and should get tested."