Alaska Combats High STD Rates
Alaska continues to struggle with some of the nation’s highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases. New data from the state’s epidemiology office shows that a recent decrease in reported cases hasn’t continued into 2013.
Chlamydia cases dropped by 5 percent in 2011 after a peak in 2010. They fell another 7 percent in 2012, according to Susan Jones, the manager of the HIV and STD programs for the state of Alaska.
"So we were very hopeful that this would be continuing in 2013. But I'm not sure that it is. What we found is in the last quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013 both chlamydia and gonorrhea case numbers are starting to go up," said Jones.
The final data hasn’t been processed, but it should be ready within a few weeks. As the state attempts to understand the uptick, they are trying to interview people with gonorrhea to find out more about sexual partners people have had and track the disease. Jones says the state is taking a hard look at one particular high risk group- those who find sex partners on the internet.
"They're hooking up with folks they meet online. So it's folks they don't know. They don't know their status and they don't reveal their status to each other. People have sex in many different ways. It might be that there's the sexually transmitted disease in the throat, in the rectum, and in the genital area. We want to make sure that people who are practicing these types of sexual behaviors, and providers, know to test all the sites that have been exposed," said Jones.
Jones says one big challenge with Chlamydia is that it’s a disease that many people have without knowing it.
"Probably 85 percent of the people who have the infection have no symptoms. So they don't know they have the disease and then they can of course pass it on to others without knowing they're infected. It's a very easy infection to catch through sexual transmission. It's also very easy to cure through antibiotics. But the person that's infected not only have to be cured through antibiotics, but their sexual partners have to be cured too," said Jones.
Jones says the state is trying to reach out through a new media campaign to educate those who are at higher risk for STDs. They’ve bought ads on social media sites like facebook and Pandora. A campaign called Wrap it Up AK lets people order condoms online. Jones also points to an effort led by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium called iknowmine.org. That website provides access to STD testing kits that can be mailed to individual homes.