TRAVERSE CITY — Five confirmed downstate cases of a rare form of gonorrhea often requiring hospitalization have local health officials on alert.

“Our communicable disease department was made aware,” said RoseAnn Davis, public information officer with the Grand Traverse County Health Department.

“At this time, no one up in Grand Traverse County has presented with the DGI bacteria.”

The confirmed cases of DGI are all downstate; but between 2017 and 2018, the five-county area saw a 119 percent increase in reported cases of the more common type of the disease.

“We are urging Michigan residents to protect themselves from this rare but serious infection and other sexually transmitted diseases through safe sex practices, including using condoms,” said state epidemiologist Sarah Lyon-Callo.

Disseminated gonococcal infection, or DGI, can develop after a typical case of gonorrhea is undiagnosed and untreated.

This year state health officials have reported four confirmed cases of DGI in Kalamazoo County, one confirmed case in St. Joseph County, and one unconfirmed case in Calhoun County.

“We are following this outbreak of DGI with concern and interest,” said Dr. Joshua Meyerson, medical director at the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, which includes Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties.

Meyerson is also the medical director of the Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department.

The Michigan cases are the only known cases in the nation at this time, said Becky Harrison, public health nurse supervisor at Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services.

It is uncertain if the disease is spreading or is contained downstate, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is working with health officials in Kalamazoo County to investigate.

Typical gonorrhea is transmitted by sexual contact and often exhibits no or only mild symptoms — especially in women, who may confuse the disease for a urinary tract infection, said Lynn Sutfin, public information officer with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

DGI is also transmitted by sexual contact, is treated with the same antibiotics, but exhibits more serious symptoms, Suftin said.

These include fever, chills, joint pain and swelling, especially in the wrists and feet.

None of the reported cases of DGI in Michigan has been resistant to antibiotic treatment, Harrison said.

In 2017, Michigan had 15,742 reported cases of gonorrhea. In 2018, the latest year for which figures are available, that number jumped 7.5 percent to 16,922. In the five-county area, there were 26 reported cases in 2017, and 57 cases in 2018.

Davis and Sutfin said to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, abstinence, reducing the number of sexual partners, and the consistent and correct use of condoms are advised.

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