State investigates rare gonorrhea infections as STDs soar

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Michigan health officials are investigating six cases — five confirmed and one possible — of rare gonorrhea infections that often require hospitalization.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that is officials are looking at cases of disseminated gonococcal infection, which occurs from the spread of the sexually transmitted gonorrhea.

Last year, Michigan reported 16,992 cases of gonorrhea.

Symptoms may include fevers, chills and joint pain, stiffness and swelling. It can also cause infections in joints and internal organs, health officials said. Patients may or may not have the symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease, so anyone experiencing these symptoms is urged to contact a health care provider.

The four of the confirmed cases are in Kalamazoo County and one is in St. Joseph County in southwest Michigan. One possible case is being reviewed in Calhoun County. Infected residents range in age from 20 to 55.

“We are urging Michigan residents to protect themselves from this rare but serious infection and other sexually transmitted diseases through safe sex practices, including using condoms,” said Sarah Lyon-Callo, state epidemiologist for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

Cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis all increased in 2018, the department said. Last year, Michigan reported 51,256 cases of chlamydia; 16,992 cases of gonorrhea; and 654 cases of primary and secondary syphilis.

The rates of syphilis and chlamydia have hit record highs since 2001, according to state statistics.

Michigan's syphilis rate soared 66% from 311 cases per 100,000 people in 2001 to nearly 518 cases in 2018. The rate of chlamydia rose 49% from 11.5 cases per 100,000 in 2001 to 17 cases last year.

By contrast, gonorrhea cases fell from 171.4 cases per 100,000 people in 2001 to a low of 97.5 cases in 2014, according to the state. But cases have escalated 74% in the past four years to drive the rate back up to 169 cases per 100,000 in 2018.

In Kalamazoo County, gonorrhea has increased by 20% over the last year, from 854 cases to 1,027, according to the health department.

"Abstaining from sex, reducing the number of partners and consistent and correct use of condoms are all effective prevention strategies to prevent DGI and other sexually transmitted diseases," officials said.