Alaska Remains #1 Chlamydia State

Alaska still ranks number one in the country for Chlamydia according to a report released today (12/13) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although Chlamydia rates went down just slightly in Alaska in 2011, it is still a big enough problem to put the state at number one in a national ranking. That’s according to a an annual report released by the Centers for Disease Control. Susan Jones is the HIV/STD program manager for the section of epidemiology with the State Department of Health and Social Services. She says the state has been trying to build awareness about the infection, but it has been challenging because there are often no apparent symptoms.

“One of the problems with Chlamydia is that 85 percent of the people that have this infections don’t have any symptoms so they don’t know.”

All the more reason to just get tested, Jones says. The National 2011 Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance Report by the CDC also shows gonorrhea cases have gone down in Alaska.

“We have dropped in ranking for Gonorrhea infections. Gonorrhea is also a bacteria that’s sexually transmitted. We were number number 3 in the nation in 2010. In 2011 we dropped down to 9th.”

But Jones says there are other concerns. The CDC is finding that gonorrhea is becoming resistant to antibiotics. She says her office is working with providers to identify drug resistant gonorrhea in Alaska, but the state does not yet test for it.

The CDC report also shows the numbers for Syphilis. Alaska does not have many cases, just 11 reported in 2011 but the 2012 numbers, Jones says, are beginning to show an uptick.

“So our concern in Alaska even though our case numbers aren’t high, is that they’re higher than they’ve been in the recent past. In 2012 to date we have 20 recorded cases of syphilis. And its primarily in men who report having sex with men. And many of them are finding their sex partners online, on craigslist and they’re having sex with people that they don’t know, so they’re not revealing to each other if they have signs and symptoms of infection.”

Some of the men who had syphilis or gonorrhea last year were co-infected with HIV, Jones says. Connie Jessen is the HIV/STD program manager for the Alaska Tribal Health Consortium. She’s also working to prevent sexually transmitted infections in Alaska. She helped start a by mail testing service for Chlamydia, gonorrhea and Trichimonis in Alaska, last year. It’s called ‘I want the kit‘. The Alaska Tribal Health Consortium is the first tribal entity to participate in the national program.

“Within those last 15 months we have had 877 requests for kits. And they came actually from across the state. Obviously Anchorage is the largest population center so the numbers are the largest ones from Anchorage. But we have gotten requests from literally up north to all the way southwest, out the Aleutian chain, down southeast Alaska. The requests have been widespread.”

Of those 877, Jessen says, only 258 have were returned for testing, or about 35 percent.

The testing service is open to residents of Alaska who are 14 years and older. Kits can be ordered online or by phone. Postage is covered. They’re are mailed from Anchorage, then returned to a testing center at Johns Hopkins University. A nurse contacts those who test positive. Jesson says, going forward, the Consortium hopes to increase the number of returned kits. And they are looking at how to target areas off the road system, with higher rates of sexually transmitted infections.

“If you look at the regions, and the decrease we’ve seen in chlamydia and gonorrhea statewide in 2011 was seen in all regions except for the interior. So I’m thinking we might need to do a lot more education and outreach in that area.”

Jessen has high hopes for curbing the rates for sexually transmitted infections in Alaska, using the Internet, phone and postal service.

“Obviously this is a young population. We know that they like to be on the Internet, that they seek services through the Internet. That they are a generation that likes to do business on the Internet. You add to that the fact that its a sensitive issue. That you know you have to make an appointment usually, you have to go in, you have to pay to just get tested. So there’s you know there are several different barriers so maybe that’s a way to get rid of some of the barriers.”

Using funding received from the state legislature, the State of Alaska is partnering with the Alaska Tribal Health Consortium and several other organizations to launch a new media campaign aimed at reducing sexually transmitted infections in people 15 to 29-years old, those at highest risk. It’s expected to launch in the new year.

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Daysha Eaton is the News Director at KBBI in Homer. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.