May 11, 2004
State epidemiologist Dr. Harry Hull said the increases do not necessarily indicate that more young people are having unsafe sex; surveys have shown that sexual activity among teenagers has been declining in recent years. The higher rates could mean more people engaging in unprotected sex are getting tested more often, Hull said.
Dr. Carol Ball, medical director for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota/South Dakota, said abstinence-only sex education is partly to blame for the rise. Young people "need all the methods and information that is available" to avoid risky behavior, said Ball. But Hull said his department has no research liking higher STD rates with sex education focused on abstinence.
The rate of STDs in Minnesota has been increasing for the past five to seven years after declining in the 1990s. In 2002, the STD rate jumped 19 percent, though state health officials say a third of that was attributable to better reporting. A total of 14,111 new cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis were recorded last year, up 6 percent from 2002.
Health officials noted STD rates among minority groups were also high. Last year, there were 1,490 new chlamydia cases for every 100,000 black Minnesotans. Gonorrhea is also far more frequent in minority groups, officials said. There were 92 new syphilis cases among gay and bisexual men in 2003 -- almost double the number reported in 2001 -- and half of those diagnosed also had HIV. Though new HIV cases declined in 2003, health officials worry the current syphilis outbreak could foreshadow higher HIV rates.