Health in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area:

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Key Point

Since 2000, STI rates for Douglas County have averaged 31% (chlamydia) and 38% (gonorrhea) higher than comparable national rates.

Let’s Break It Down

Chlamydia rates in the metro grew significantly in a 17-year period.

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are infections passed between people, often through sexual contact, but may also spread through the sharing of needles, blood transfusions, or from mother to child during birth. The data indicates that adolescents ages 18-24 have the highest prevalence of chlamydia and gonorrhea in our community.

STI rates are measured per 100,000 people so that comparisons can be made across different communities. In Douglas, Sarpy and Pottawattamie Counties, reported chlamydia cases increased significantly in a 17-year period, from 2000 to 2017. In Douglas County, chlamydia rates went from 423 cases in 2000, to 654 cases in 2017. Pottawattamie County saw rates triple, with reported cases increasing from 201 in 2000, to 654 cases in 2017. In Sarpy County rates have doubled since 2000 from 192 in 2000 and 361 in 2017.

Meanwhile, the trend for gonorrhea cases has differed between counties. Douglas County saw a reduction in gonorrhea cases over the same 14-year period, going from 250 cases annually in 2000, to only 177 cases in 2014. However, since 2014 rates have increased with a rate of 280 cases in 2017. Annual gonorrhea rates in Pottawattamie County have doubled; increasing from 44 cases in 2000 to 96 in 2014 and have grown significantly since then with a rate of 255 in 2017. Sarpy County rates have almost tripled with 39 in 2000 to 91 in 2017. 

Why Does It Matter?

STIs can cause health complications, like reproductive health problems and cancer, especially when they go untreated.

In 2004, the Douglas County Health Department declared Sexually Transmitted Infections as an epidemic. STIs affect all people, and many are preventable. Complications from STIs include reproductive health problems and fetal or perinatal problems, and if left untreated, the possibility of cancer. With testing, treatment, and precautions, many of these STIs can be prevented from spreading. However, because many STIs have no symptoms—or symptoms that may appear like other infections—individuals may have an STI for a long time without realizing it and there is a heightened chance of infected individuals forgoing treatment.

The declaration of STIs as an epidemic increases the overall urgency and awareness of the issue, validating it as a key concern for the community. This increased awareness has also brought together a collaboration of health and nonprofit agencies—led by the Women’s Fund of Omaha—to create the Adolescent Health Project. The project focuses on increasing sexual health knowledge and decreasing risky sexual behaviors including teen pregnancy and STIs. It is important to note that as awareness increases, the number of people being tested is likely to rise. As a result, there may be an increase in cases, making it appear to get worse before the number of cases can actually be reduced.

How Do We Compare?

Douglas County has one of the highest rates of STIs in the nation.

As of 2017, rates of chlamydia in Douglas County were 1.2 times that of the national rate, while Pottawattamie County was consistent with the national rate and Sarpy County was lower. Nationally, in 2017 there were 525 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people, compared to 251 cases per 100,000 people in 2000.

Between 2000 and 2014 gonorrhea rates have decreased, although since 2014 they have started to rise—both nationally and locally—rates in Douglas and Pottawattamie Counties have remained well above the national average while rates in Sarpy County are much lower than national rates. In 2017, there were 171 cases of gonorrhea per 100,000 people nationwide compared to 129 cases per year in 2000.

Data Source: Center for Disease Control, Douglas County Department of Health, Get Checked Omaha, Women’s Fund of Omaha– Adolescent Health Project.

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