Yakima County continues to struggle with disproportionately high incidents of sexually transmitted diseases, according to state health officials.

Share story

YAKIMA — If for some reason you were thinking of having unprotected sex in Yakima, public-health officials wish to remind you: Don’t.

The state Department of Health last week released 2016 data on sexually transmitted diseases (STD), and Yakima County is still one of the worst counties in the state for sexual health.

The county has the highest rate of gonorrhea, with 444 cases; and the second-highest rate for chlamydia, with 1,594 cases.

Chlamydia cases stayed mostly static from 2015, which saw 1,597 cases; but gonorrhea cases increased by 18 percent, from 376 in 2015.

The county also logged 11 cases of syphilis in 2016, but its rate is well below the numbers seen in Spokane and King counties. And there were 63 new cases of genital herpes, again well below the rate of several other counties.

The gonorrhea news is particularly alarming, as the numbers have now risen dramatically for four straight years.

In 2013, the Yakima Health District called the rate of gonorrhea an “outbreak” — and that was when there were only 181 cases in the entire year.

In 2014 the number jumped to 406.

“We haven’t been able to pinpoint a reason for why our numbers are so high,” said Melissa Sixberry, director of disease control at the Health District.

“It kind of varies through the state. Each county tends to have their issues; there have been outbreaks of syphilis in other counties, where our numbers haven’t been so high” on that particular disease, she said.

To combat STDs, public-health officials are focusing on early detection and screening.

“One of the things that we’re trying to do is partner notifications; making sure the partners are getting treated as well,” Sixberry said. Someone who tests positive for an STD also can ask for a “partner pack” of the pills to give to their partner.

Sixberry advises anyone who is sexually active to be tested once a year, or with the onset of any symptoms.

For people who are at a higher risk, which includes people who have multiple partners or men who have sex with men, the recommendation bumps up to every six months, or at the onset of symptoms.

The big concern now is antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, which, as the name says, cannot be cured with antibiotics traditionally used to treat it.

However, Sixberry said, there have not yet been any known cases in the U.S. of resistance to the first-line dual antibiotic treatment, which is ceftriaxone and azithromycin.

As a disease, chlamydia is largely asymptomatic and can cause long-term damage to women’s reproductive systems, even leading to infertility. When symptoms do appear, in both men and women, they include abnormal discharge and a burning sensation when urinating. Men also may experience painful and swollen testicles, though it’s less common.

Gonorrhea is often asymptomatic in women, or frequently mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection. Symptoms can include painful urination, increased discharge and bleeding between periods. For men, symptoms include a burning sensation when urinating, and white, green or yellow discharge.