Alaska rise in sexually transmitted diseases reported

Posted: Thursday, August 07, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) For the second consecutive year, Alaska reported the highest chlamydia rates in the country and state health officials say the numbers are growing.

The state Division of Public Health also reported an increase in gonorrhea rates.

According to health officials, 3,805 cases of the sexually transmitted disease were reported in Alaska in 2002, a 40 percent increase over cases reported in 2001. Officials said there were 642 cases of gonorrhea rates in 2002, a 41 percent increase over 2001.

Both diseases can cause internal inflammation and scarring of the urinary and reproduction systems and could lead to complications with pregnancy. They are treatable with the proper medication and preventable with condom use.

Alison Bell, a state medical epidemiologist, said a number of factors come into play in determining the increases for both diseases.

Bell said advanced screening technologies could be partially responsible for catching more cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea. Also, more people are being tested for chlamydia.

Chlamydia first became reportable in Alaska in 1996, after the health community became more aware of its dangers, Bell said.

The state's numbers also could be skewed by the fact that not all 50 states report incidences of chlamydia, Bell said.

She said that some who contract the disease do not experience symptoms for years.

''Chlamydia is by far the most frequently reported of the reportable diseases,'' Bell said, noting the statistics include nonsexually transmitted diseases.

She said the numbers for gonorrhea show an increase from last year, but in the larger picture the upswing is less significant.

''Part of the increase is probably because of more testing,'' Bell said. ''The gonorrhea numbers have been coming down significantly for decades.''

The state also reported a slight increase in HIV and AIDS cases. In 2001, the state reported 51 cases, but that number jumped to 87 in 2002. Bell said that does not necessarily represent a lasting trend.

Females constitute 2,576 of the cases of chlamydia in 2002, and males made up 1,229. For gonorrhea, 289 males tested positive for the disease, and 353 females tested positive.

The state also reported that people between the ages of 15 and 24 represent the highest-risk group for contracting the two diseases.

A breakdown by race showed that Alaska Natives constitute 44 percent of the chlamydia cases reported, followed by whites at 39 percent, blacks at 11 percent and Asians at 6 percent.

Natives represented 55 percent of the gonorrhea cases reported, with whites at 26 percent, blacks at 15 percent, Asians at 3 percent and others at 1 percent.

The report noted that the high numbers of Natives and blacks could be due in part to detection bias, noting that minority groups often seek health care through publicly funded institutions that often have a better reputation for reporting detected cases of STDs.

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