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Sexual infection rates rising

Published (2/13/2009)
By Nick Busse
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Deb Wilkens-Costello, executive director of the Family Tree Clinic in St. Paul, left, and Betty Nelson, president of SAFEPlan and executive director of Outlook Clinics in North Branch, testify before the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee Feb. 11 in support of a bill that would help prevent sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy, study sexually transmitted infection prevalence and health care system costs, and create a responsible family life and sexuality education program. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)Rates of sexually transmitted infections in Minnesota are rising at an alarming rate, David Johnson, an epidemiologist with the Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support, told members of a House committee Feb. 11.

Johnson told the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee the number of Chlamydia cases reported across the state has nearly doubled in the last 10 years. Chlamydia is now the most common disease in Minnesota — even among non-STI illnesses, like the flu, he said.

There were 17,057 STI cases reported to the Minnesota Department of Health in 2007, according to Johnson, of which 13,412 were Chlamydia; however, he noted that the actual number of people infected with STIs is probably much higher. He said that because STIs often show no immediate symptoms, many incidences go unreported.

Johnson presented graphs showing that incidences of Chlamydia and gonorrhea are much higher in minority communities — particularly in black communities. Current data shows that infection rates are also much higher among women, but Johnson said this reflects the fact that women are more likely than men to be screened for STIs.

The statistics were presented as part of testimony on HF550, sponsored by Rep. Maria Ruud (DFL-Minnetonka), which would require the Minnesota Department of Health to make recommendations to the Legislature on how to reduce STI rates “significantly” by 2014. The committee approved the bill and referred it to the House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight Committee.

Committee members did not discuss Section 1 of the bill, which would make changes to the state’s sexual education policies for K-12 classrooms. That portion of the bill is expected to be discussed in other committees.

A companion, SF273, sponsored by Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), awaits action by the Senate Education Committee.

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