Gonorrhea cases in Washington have increased substantially this year, according to the Washington State Department of Health. While there were 2,350 through the first nine months of 2012, the department reports there have been 3,137 cases during the same time period this year - a 34 percent increase.
Officials said rates have been increasing steadily since 2010, but experts aren't sure why. The jump has occurred among men and women in most age groups, but young adults remain the most likely to be infected.
Rural and urban counties across Eastern and Western Washington have all reported a climb in cases. However, several counties have seen more dramatic upswings, including Spokane, Yakima, Thurston, Kitsap and Benton counties - which are at outbreak levels.
Despite the increase, Washington gonorrhea rates are still well below the national average, health officials report.
The Department of Health will continue to monitor reported cases of gonorrhea. Officials are working with health care providers to ensure people with gonorrhea and those exposed get appropriate testing and treatment to stop ongoing spread of the disease.
"We're especially concerned because of gonorrhea's resistance to antibiotics used to treat it," said Mark Aubin, sexually transmitted disease controller for the department of health. "It's important for us to assure every reported case is interviewed so the partners of infected people are identified and receive treatment."
Gonorrhea is the second most common sexually transmitted disease in Washington after chlamydia. It's spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner. The infection often has no symptoms, particularly among women. If symptoms are present, they may include discharge or painful urination. Serious long-term health issues can occur if the disease isn't treated, including pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility and an increased likelihood of HIV transmission.
Health officials urge anyone who is experiencing symptoms, or has a partner who has been diagnosed, to be tested. Routine screenings are recommended for sexually active people. Prevention methods include consistent and correct use of condoms, partner treatment, mutual monogamy and abstinence.