The number of new sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) continued to rise in 2018, according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s (MDH) annual sexually transmitted disease (STD), HIV and hepatitis C statistics report. Of special concern were 10 congenital syphilis cases reported in 2018, a major increase from two in 2017.

Congenital syphilis (syphilis in a fetus or infant at birth) can cause serious complications such as miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, birth defects and infant death. Fortunately, the infection can be prevented with proper screening and treatment during pregnancy, said MDH State Epidemiologist and Medical Director Dr. Ruth Lynfield.

“We are working closely with clinicians, local public health departments, and other community partners to respond to this increase in congenital syphilis,” Lynfield said. “With ongoing increases in congenital syphilis, it is really important that pregnant women are tested for syphilis at least twice during pregnancy, and in some cases, a third time. It is important to diagnosis cases during pregnancy and provide adequate treatment to prevent complications in both the mother and infant.” 

The MDH report also showed that the combined number of new chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis cases in Minnesota increased by 3% in 2018 compared to 2017. HIV cases increased slightly with 286 new cases. Disparities remain among communities of color and men who have sex with men. Hepatitis C continues an upward trend, with 60 acute cases reported.

Key findings by the numbers:

There were 32,024 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis reported in 2018 compared to 30,981 cases in 2017.

  • Chlamydia, the number one reported infectious disease in the state, increased by 2% to 23,564 cases in 2018.
    • The majority occurred in teens and young adults ages 15 to 24.
    • One out of every three cases occurred in Greater Minnesota, with four or more cases reported in every county.
  • Gonorrhea remained the second most commonly reported STD in Minnesota with 7,542 cases reported in 2018, a 16% increase.
    • Forty-two percent of all gonorrhea cases occurred among 15- to 24-year-olds and three-quarters of the cases occurred in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area.
  • Syphilis cases overall decreased 2% with 918 cases in 2018.
    • New infections continued to be centered within the Twin Cities metropolitan area and among males, particularly among men who have sex with men.
    • However, the presence of syphilis among females, especially those who are pregnant or of child-bearing age, is of concern.
    • Ten cases of congenital syphilis in infants were reported in 2018. This is a rate of 15.1 per 100,000 live births which is the highest Minnesota has ever reported and represents a 400% increase from 2017.
  • HIV cases remained stable with 286 cases reported in 2018, compared to 280 cases in 2017. This is below the five-year average of 296 cases per year from 2014 to 2018.
    • Males accounted for 76% of all new HIV cases during 2018.
    • Male-to-male sex remains the main risk factor for males of all ages.
    • More than half (59%) of new HIV cases are among communities of color.
  • Acute hepatitis C cases remained high at 60 cases in 2018 (59 cases in 2017).
    • The rate of acute hepatitis C infection is highest in American Indian Minnesotans.
    • Thirty-four cases (57%) reported injection drug use.
    • In 2018, the number of newly reported hepatitis C cases was highest in the 26-30 age group. This is the first year that newly reported cases in younger people surpassed newly reported cases in the Baby Boomer age group. The peak in cases among younger people indicates ongoing transmission.

“Untreated STDs, HIV, or hepatitis C can cause serious health problems,” said Christine Jones, STD, HIV and TB Section Manager. “Many of these infections have no immediate symptoms. The only way to know for sure is to get tested. Screening for these infections is easy and accurate.”

STDs, HIV and hepatitis C infections are all highly preventable. Effective prevention methods include consistent and correct condom use during sex and not sharing injection drug, tattoo and piercing equipment. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a daily prescription medication that can prevent HIV infection when taken consistently and correctly. 

MDH provides funding to many community-based programs throughout Minnesota to serve people who are more often affected by STDs, HIV and hepatitis C infections. These programs provide Minnesotans with prevention education, testing services, support for people who need care and sterile syringe access.