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STD Rates in Alaska See a 'Dramatic' Decrease

Published On: Oct 09 2013 12:10:43 PM AKDT
STD Rates in Alaska See a 'Dramatic' Decrease

The rate of two sexually transmitted diseases remains high enough in Alaska to be classified epidemic, but a recent bulletin from the state Department of Health and Social Services suggests a decrease over the past few years.

The rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia have dropped, according to Donna Cecere, STD program coordinator for the state.

Last year there were 731 gonorrhea cases in Alaska, dropping the state third lead in the nation in cases in 2010 to the 18th.

“It’s a pretty dramatic decrease,” Cecere said.

The rates of chlamydia in Alaska have always been elevated, according to Cecere. Since 1996 when case reporting started, Alaska has been in the top 10 in the nation. In 2012 Alaska was second.

“We have the dubious honor of having been very high up there,” Cecere said.

There were still 5,482 cases in 2012, but the rate of chlamydia has decreased.

Cecere attributes part of the decrease in chlamydia outbreaks to screening and treatment for gonorrhea. The test used to identify gonorrhea also identifies chlamydia.

“With an active gonorrhea outbreak, we managed to get chlamydia treated as well,” Cecere said. “We’re encouraged by that.”

Increased awareness is also helping, said Samuel Senft, a health program manager for the state. He said people could be taking more precautions and getting treated quicker.

Alaska also has a program called Expedited Partner Therapy, which allows medical providers to give a patient medication for a partner who won’t come in for treatment.

Although the epidemic has slowed in the past two years, the number of gonorrhea cases has begun to rise since the last quarter of 2012 through the first two quarters of 2013.

Senft said Alaska has a good reporting and healthcare system. Most of the cases are identified and treated, but the STDs’ prevalence, particularly in the north and southwest of Alaska, makes complete eradication difficult.

State law requires providers and testing laboratories to report STD cases to Alaska’s Public Health Department, according to Senft. The department keeps statistics and releases treatment recommendations. In some cases, disease investigators confidentially follow up with patients to ensure treatment.

Alaska’s high rate of chlamydia and gonorrhea can’t be linked to any one factor, according to Senft.

"When we have a high rate of disease there's not so much a reason so much that it is there,” Senft said. "We happen to have a lot in the first place."