March 30, 2006
Gonorrhea diagnoses among black San Franciscans ages 15-19 rose to about 100 cases in 2005, more than doubling in one year, the Department of Public Health reported Tuesday. Overall, cases were up 11 percent in the city, climbing from 2,174 in 2004 to 2,420 in 2005. DPH is asking health care providers to take a sexual history from all patients under age 25 and to screen all sexually active African Americans under age 25 for the STD.
"Once a disease is in a group, it tends to stay there in that group," said Dr. Pennan Barry, a medical epidemiologist with DPH's STD control division. "If we can reduce the amount of gonorrhea that's in the general population, then everybody's risk goes down."
Barry said the department has at present no explanation for the gonorrhea spike among black youths last year. Young people typically have higher STD rates, as they tend to have more partners and not use condoms. Reporting could also play a role: Teens and minorities are more likely to seek treatment at public clinics; these are more likely to report the cases to health departments. Barry said rates are often higher among African Americans because the black community is relatively small, and many people choose sex partners of a similar age and race. This could facilitate the spread of gonorrhea among members of a social network, said Gay Calhoun, director of STD education and prevention for the Alameda County Public Health Department.
"People group together and hang out with the same people. You have that one person in the middle who's infected, and it spreads out," Calhoun said. She added, however, "If we can get one person in that group to be the one to start testing, everyone else will start doing it, too."