SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — State health officials warned Friday that doctors are seeing increasing cases of a severe form of gonorrhea across the state, which they blame on patients not seeking treatment.

The California Department of Public Health reported on Friday that over the past few months, it’s “received reports of a severe form of gonorrhea called disseminated gonococcal infections (DGI), which is an uncommon, but significant complication of untreated gonorrhea.” These cases could cause trouble for a health system already being overwhelmed with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As an infectious disease and public health physician, I am very concerned that we are seeing completely preventable complications of sexually transmitted disease (STD) infections that went undiagnosed and untreated, likely due to people not seeking care or getting routine testing during the COVID-19 pandemic,” acting State Public Health Officer Dr. Erica Pan said.

The health department said that DGIs occur when “the sexually transmitted pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae spreads beyond the site of infection and invades the bloodstream traveling to distant sites in the body.” Not treating the infections can lead to joint pain and swelling, blood infections, and in some extreme cases, infections in heart valves and brain fluid.

State officials said they’re working with local health departments and care providers to ensure patients with STDs are tested and treated. They are encouraging the use of newly available STD and HIV tests.

“STD risk has not gone away. There are a few groups we especially want to remind to seek STD screening,” Pan said. “If you are a sexually active female 25 years of age or younger, if you are pregnant, if you are a man who has sex with men, or if you are living with HIV, please contact your healthcare provider to get recommended testing for STDs.”

For more information on STDs in California, visit www.std.ca.gov.

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