Alaska suffers 'outbreak' of gonorrhea, state officials say
Cases of gonorrhea in Alaska were up nearly a third last year from previous statistics, according to state authorities, with 2017 set to see even more infections of the sexually transmitted disease.
New figures released Tuesday by the state Department of Health and Social Services showed that gonorrhea cases reported in Alaska rose from 1,115 in 2015 to 1,454 in 2016 -- marking a 31 percent increase.
“During the first six months of 2017, there were 1,035 cases reported,” DHSS officials wrote. “More than half of those cases (56 percent) occurred in Anchorage, and 58 percent were in individuals aged 29 or younger.”
No numbers for gonorrhea rates among Alaskans, reported by U.S. health care providers that treat people with Alaska addresses, were yet available during the second half of 2017.
The report arrives amid indicators of STDs on the rise across both the state and the nation, including a July report from DHSS of increasing chlamydia rates but falling syphilis infections. On the national level, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported record-high 2016 levels of the three diseases last week.
Susan Jones, the department’s HIV/STD program manager, said Tuesday that one factor associated with the rise appears to be high-risk sexual activities, including “finding your partners through sex-seeking websites or apps and not knowing the STD status of that individual.”
“In that group of people seeking partners, they’re more likely to be infected so they’re more likely to be exposed,” Jones said. “Individuals have to take responsibility for not transmitting the infection."
On the individual level, Jones said, people should use protection – including condoms or barrier-style devices – when having sex with people whose STD status is unknown. In addition, people who learn they are infected with gonorrhea should get medical care.
“They need to get treated quickly, and all of their sexual partners need to get treated,” Jones said.
Health care providers should be aware that gonorrhea can infect the throat, genitals or rectum – and that all three areas need to be tested for the disease, which can cause symptoms ranging from initial itching and pain to sterility and infertility if left untreated.
“If all of those sites are not tested, it can not be detected,” Jones said. “Gonorrhea is 100 percent curable – 100 percent.”
For more information on gonorrhea and its symptoms, visit the CDC website.