Thursday, May 23, 2013
Gonorrhea Numbers Down
But Alaska’s rates are still among highest in the country
It’s an epidemic that's plagued the state for years. State health officials say the numbers for gonorrhea are down compared to years past. But Alaska's rates are still among the highest in the country, which is why health care workers say the issue is as important now as ever before. Honestly when you ask most people about gonorrhea, you may get a laugh, or someone who doesn't really know much about it: a scary thought for Alaska’s health care professionals who say we should care because it could affect our bodies, our babies, the ability to have babies and our overall future.
Susan Jones, the state's HIV/STD program manager says breaking down the stats most often means figuring out who people have been with. “When we talk to people who have STD's they frequently have a lot of sex partners,” said Jones. “That's over a thousand sex partners.” This is serious business for Jones who's happy to see one of Alaska's biggest epidemics, gonorrhea drop to only 770 cases so far this year.
State health folks don't know the exact reason for the decline, but say it's a combination of providers and patients getting the news about the dangers and doing something about it. “Medical providers have it more in their forefront of ideas that somebody is coming in,” said Jones. “They may have a sexually transmitted disease especially if they are under the age of 24 and they are sexually active.”
Health clinics like planned parenthood say they provide testing, treatment and education every day. “Its really important to not only test and help the person who has been tested but also to provide an opportunity to keep that closed down,” said Miriam Landau, a field organizer for Planned Parenthood of Alaska. “If people don't know its important to get tested on a yearly basis between every partner its very important to keep information like this out there.” Although gonorrhea is treatable, it's a big deal because if you have one sexually transmitted disease, chances are you've got another. And if they aren't dealt with, they could cause serious damage to your body or your future children. “That could cause pneumonia in a baby, it could cause eye infection, it could also cause blindness,” said Jones: real threats for which people need to take responsibility if they decide to engage in sexual activity.
“There's condoms for men, there's condom's for women,” said Jones. “There's other types of ways to reduce your risk, by having sexual activity where you don’t exchange bodily fluid.” Health officials say being vigilant is important because even though this year's 770 cases is a 23 % drop, Alaskans are not out of the woods. The most common STD associated with gonorrhea is chlamydia and can be treated quickly and cheaply. But if it doesn't get addressed in three months it could cause both men and women to be infertile – sad situations when people want to have babies find out they can't because they didn't get treated right away. Officials say simple things like practicing safe sex work, and if you think or know you've been exposed to an STD to go get tested and treated. They even have what is called expedited partner therapy where sexual partners can receive treatment without going to a provider. A responsibility we all can be a part of to keep gonorrhea numbers going down.