Cases of some types of sexually transmitted diseases increased in 2018

DES MOINES — Preliminary data released from the Iowa Department of Public Health for 2018 shows the cases for most types of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) increased.

The DPH’s George Walton oversees the program that tracks the STD’s. “Chlamydia and gonorrhea both increased. Syphilis decreased a bit and stayed steady overall,” Walton says. The cases of chlamydia rose 5.8% from 2017 to 14,695, while gonorrhea cases increased a little more than 28 percent to 4,839. Syphilis cases dropped by 1.7% to 283.

Walton says the national numbers show an increase in all three. “I’d say we are pretty on par with the nation in terms of our increases in chlamydia. With gonorrhea, actually our cases are happening more rapidly than the nation as a whole,” Walton says. “And with syphilis compared to the national average.” He says some of the increase in cases chlamydia can be attributed to more testing. “That is definitely contributing to the increase in gonorrhea as well. But, since gonorrhea is increasing at a much faster rate — there’s a pretty good chance that there is something else going on,” according to Walton, “There could be an increase in transmission as well.”

Walton says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found a link between the use of drugs and persons who have syphilis. “They did see a doubling in certain groups of meth use among people diagnosed with primary and secondary syphilis. And we saw something similar here in Iowa when we looked at our data. Again, in Iowa we were looking at primary and secondary syphilis, the most early stages, the most infectious stages,” Walton says.

He says the drug use can impact how the diseases are reported.”Anecdotally we’ve seen with some of our STD clinics — some folks who are getting syphilis for example, or gonorrhea as well — they are symptoms that they otherwise may have noticed if they weren’t using these drugs. The actually go unnoticed, because they kind of mask the symptoms,” he explains.

Walton says chlamydia cases are most prevalent in people under the age of 25 — while the gonorrhea cases are in more age groups. “That infection has change a bit over the years. It’s trending a little big older., We’ve seen more infections among people in their late 20’s, 30’s all the way up to early 40’s,” Walton says. “That infection as well we see more evenly split among genders, whereas with chlamydia we tend to see it more in women,” Walton says.

He says syphilis has a different age profile when you look at the numbers.”It doesn’t seem to be concentrated in any one particular age group,” Walton says. “But we do see that men are disproportionately impacted and have a much higher percentage of the cases. “And of those men, the majority are gay men or other men who have sex with men.”

Walton says IDPH follows the CDC guidelines and recommends that anyone under the age of 25 who is sexually active get regular testing for STDs. He says others should consult with their doctor about testing. For more information about IDPH’s STD program, including resources, visit