Sexually transmitted disease rates on the rise

Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- Rates of sexually transmitted diseases in Alaska are rising as health care workers increase efforts to test patients and notify sexual partners who could be infected.

The state Section of Epidemiology reported 2,570 cases of chlamydia in 2000 -- almost twice as many cases than it reported in 1996, when the state began requiring data about the disease. Since 1996, Alaska has been among the top 10 states reporting high chlamydia rates, said Donna Cecere, the section's program manager for STDs.

The state has collected data about gonorrhea cases since the 1970s, said Megan Ryan, public health specialist with the Section of Epidemiology. While Alaska no longer reports more than 1,180 cases of gonorrhea a year, as it did in 1990, the numbers of cases for the state is once again increasing. In 1999, the state reported 302 cases of the sexually transmitted disease. In 2000, 362 cases were reported, a 20 percent increase.

Nationally, Alaska ranked 35th in gonorrhea rates in 1999.

The state reported that people ages 20 to 24 had the highest rates. Alaska Natives and black residents also had high rates. Alaska Natives accounted for 46 percent of all chlamydia cases and 59 percent of gonorrhea cases, even though Native residents make up only 17 percent of Alaska's population.

State health workers discussed a number of possible hypotheses for why Alaska's numbers are increasing.

''We're really not able to say whether it's a matter of chlamydia increasing in the state or we're just better at finding it,'' Cecere said.

Health agencies statewide are trying to test patients and notify their sexual partners about the spread of contagious diseases. Whenever patients test positive for STDs, they can confidentially share the names of their sexual partners with health care workers, Cecere said. The health care workers then contact the partners and tell them they could be at risk of having a sexually transmitted disease. Neither the name nor identifying information about the original patient is shared with the sexual partner.

Ryan said increased numbers may be due to more than increased partner notification. Health care workers can diagnose both diseases with a swab test, but now a noninvasive urine test is available for chlamydia. People might be more willing to get tested with the easier method, she said.

Alaskans can have chlamydia and gonorrhea and not know it. Possible symptoms for men and women are discharge and painful urination. Without treatment with antibiotics, both diseases can lead to major medical problems.

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