California’s STD crisis

In a state with a health epidemic, Sacramento County ranks among the worst for chlamydia and gonorrhea

This story has been expanded from its print version.

In a state where sexually transmitted diseases are at epidemic levels, Sacramento County residents are among the least protected and most infected when it comes to the most common, according to new data from the California Department of Public Health.

Sacramento County ranked fifth last year in rates of chlamydia, with 758.7 infections per 100,000 live births, state data shows. All totaled, the county reported 11,645 cases of chlamydia last year, a 34.5% increase from 2014. Only San Francisco, Alpine, the city of Long Beach and Kern had higher chlamydia rates, though Alpine had only 12 cases for 2018 and Long Beach is part of Los Angeles County, which itself ranked ninth.

Chlamydia—a bacterial infection that can enter through the throat, rectum, a woman’s cervix or man’s urethra—is at its highest level since mandated reporting began in 1990 and most prevalent among the young. People within the ages of 15 to 25 account for five out of every 10 cases in California.

Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD in California, the public health department states. While easily treatable, the disease often doesn’t show symptoms and goes undetected, which can lead to serious complications. Untreated, chlamydia can cause permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system.

California is also seeing a rise in antibiotic-resistant “super gonorrhea,” the other most common STD. Sacramento County ranked seventh in that category, with 3,838 individual cases, which translates to an infection rate of 250 per 100,000 live births.

Less common but perhaps more troubling is the 265% jump in syphilis cases over the past decade. All totaled, there were 25,344 reported cases of syphilis last year in California. Public health officials consider it a major problem because mild or no symptoms can mean it goes untreated and affects the heart, brain and other organs. While predominant in men who have sex with other men, syphilis is rising faster in women and leading to an increase in congenital syphilis, which occurs when infection is transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, the health department states. “In 2018 alone, there were 19 infant stillbirths, 3 neonatal deaths, and 31 infants born with other symptoms or complications from syphilis.”

Since January, the county Department of Health Services has been offering sexual health screenings and other services at student health centers at Sacramento City College and Cosumnes River College, said department spokeswoman Andrea Sandoval.

The county also opened a sexual health clinic on Broadway in May for free STD screenings, as well as exams and treatment, and trained 250 social workers to discuss sexual health with foster youth. A working group is developing a community-wide strategy to address the spread of STDs, Sandoval added. A media campaign this past spring was aimed at informing the public of the reemergence of syphilis.

“Sacramento County Public Health is coordinating with the hospitals to ensure syphilis testing for pregnant women who do not have prenatal care,” Sandoval wrote in an email.

Sacramento County recorded 10 cases of congenital syphilis last year.