The number of cases of two types of gonorrhea found in gay and bisexual men nearly doubled in San Diego County from 2006-2007, and the trend is continuing this year. The reasons for the increase aren’t clear, although recent HIV statistics indicate that local gay men aren’t engaging in more risky unprotected sex.
In a report issued last week, the county Public Health Services department reported that the number of male cases of two types of gonorrhea — found in the rectum and the throat — jumped from 202 in 2006 to 393 in 2007.
Cases of rectal and throat gonorrhea are most commonly found in men who have sex with men, making them a barometer of the extent of the disease in the gay community. (The new numbers don’t include another type of gonorrhea, found in the urethra.) The total number of cases of gonorrhea in the county fell from 2,767 to 2,385 between 2006 and 2007.
Symptoms of gonorrhea — also known as the “clap” — include burning sensations during urination and discharge. It’s usually easily treated with drugs, although some strains are becoming resistant to medications.
People can have gonorrhea without symptoms, said Terry Cunningham, chief of the HIV, STD and Hepatitis branch of the Public Health Services department. “We’re concerned that there are people who have the disease that don’t know it.”
This year, the rates of the two types of gonorrhea in gay and bisexual men are remaining steady and may even go above last year’s number, Cunningham said.
It’s possible that cases of the two types of gonorrhea cases may be rising because public health officials are urging doctors to do a better job of testing gay men for the disease, he said.
The increase in cases could also be the sign that gay and bisexual men are having more unprotected sex.
Condoms provide some protection against the transmission of both gonorrhea and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Also, those infected with gonorrhea can more easily become infected with — or spread — HIV.
However, the number of new HIV cases in the county among “men who have sex with men” actually fell from 328 in 2005 to 307 in 2006 and 265 in 2007.