KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Kalamazoo has the second-highest number of gonorrhea cases in Michigan, according to statewide statistics.
In 2014, the STD rate in Kalamazoo County jumped nearly 27 percent over 2013 and the statistics so far in 2015 show the rate continues to increase. Chlamydia and gonorrhea were the fastest growing sexually-transmitted diseases reported in the county.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented rise in the number of sexually transmitted diseases here in the county and I think of particular concern is we’re seeing these in younger people. This is something that we haven’t seen, such a rapid rise in this age group in the past and that’s what is of concern to us,” said Dr. Gillian Stoltman, the Director for Kalamazoo County Health Services.
Statistics from the Michigan Department of Community Health show gonorrhea cases are down eight percent across the state, but in Kalamazoo County last year, the cases rose by 131 percent. Detroit is the only city in the state that has more gonorrhea cases than Kalamazoo.
For the 15 to 19 year old age group, gonorrhea cases nearly tripled from 57 in 2013 to 163 in 2014.
“Children or young people believe that oral sex and anal sex isn’t sex so they don’t understand that you can get gonorrhea or chlamydia in your throat and then you can pass it along to other people that way so they need to know that is a sexual behavior,” said Lynne Norman, the Deputy Director for Kalamazoo County Health Services.
Statistics from Kalamazoo County also show gonorrhea cases for the 14 or younger age group rose from 3 in 2013 to 15 cases in 2014.
Kent, Muskegon and Wayne counties also saw an increase in gonorrhea cases at around 30 percent.
Chlamydia cases were nearly unchanged statewide between 2013 and 2014, but Kalamazoo saw a nine percent increase.
Health officials in Kent and Kalamazoo counties believe the use of hookup apps are a contributing factor.
“We’re finding people are using hookup apps. They’re using social media to have casual sexual contact with people that they don’t know. Someone who’s positive for gonorrhea or chlamydia will state that they know the app name of someone they were with, but not necessarily the first and last name,” said Norman.
Officials also believe more STD testing in the community could be a factor.
“We have wonderful medical providers that work very closely with us and they do a lot of testing for STD’s so we may have greater numbers also because there’s more testing being performed so those positive cases are being identified,” Norman said.
Though Western Michigan University is a part of Kalamazoo County, that is not being considered a big factor because the focus for now remains on the younger age group and not particularly college students.
“It may contribute a slight amount, but that would only be one of the factors,” Norman told 24 Hour News 8.
Health officials with Kalamazoo County Health Services also said younger people are starting to engage in forms of sex outside of intercourse and are contracting diseases that way.
“A lot of young people are getting the message about preventing pregnancy so if you look at our pregnancy rates, we don’t see them escalating rapidly. We live in a very sexual society. The messages are out there all the time, but with these hookups, they don’t necessarily know the age of the person or who the person is that they’re hooking up with,” said Dr. Stoltman.
The problem is not specific to one neighborhood or area in the county either.
“At this point, it definitely is dispersed throughout the county and in multiple neighborhoods, multiple school districts,” Norman said.
The county has put together an online STD toolkit to provide more information and resources for medical providers, educators and the general public when it comes to this issue.
Officials said abstinence and using protection are the best ways to prevent getting a sexually transmitted disease and education will be key to deterring the issue.
“Of course abstinence, if you don’t have the exposure, you’re not going to get the disease, but if you are going to have that exposure then you need to put up some sort of barrier. That’s how we prevent transmission of disease. There’s probably a lot of things we don’t know about this because it’s a relatively new behavior as you suggested. We’re seeing it in the younger population and we don’t know all the factors that are involved in that, but certainly lack of education through the schools, through the parents, is a critical part of it,” said Dr. Stoltman.
“It’s very important for parents to be actively educating their kids as well as the school and the school doesn’t have as much leeway to provide some of the nitty, gritty details that are important for children to know,” Norman said.
Kalamazoo County is introducing an STD task force starting in October to combat the growing problem.