Gonorrhea In Alaska 

December 14, 2007

State health officials in Alaska are concerned about gonorrhea rates which, after holding steady for many years, picked up by a sudden 69% in 2009. This is the biggest annual increase since the 1970's, says Susan Jones, from Alaska's Department of Health and Social Services.

Alaska Gonorrhea

During 2009 there were 997 reported cases of gonorrhea. This corresponds to 144 cases of gonorrhea for every 100,000 people. In 2008, the rate was only 85 cases in every 100,000 people. Native Alaskans and residents of Southwest Alaska have the highest number of cases according to the new figures. Alaska Natives are most affected with two-thirds of the cases represented by this group.

However, Jones says that the epidemic is spreading throughout the state with every area other than Interior Alaska undergoing a rise. Jones manages the HIV and sexually transmitted disease (STD) program for the state. Because of the sharp rise, the state's Division of Public Health issued a bulletin to help spread the word.

Female Infertility And Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is an STD that may cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), female infertility, miscarriage, newborn eye infections, and male genital infections.

While officials haven't determined the cause of the spiking rate of gonorrhea, they do know that it's not a case of testing more people. The number of people being tested has remained consistent. It's just that more test results are coming back positive. On the other hand, the current outbreak seems to have fewer and milder symptoms than have been observed during past outbreaks of gonorrhea. "So people aren't rushing in to get treated because they're so uncomfortable. Especially the men," said Jones. Because the symptoms are mild, people don't realize they're sick and continue to have relations. "That may be promoting the spread of it."

Fewer Symptoms of Gonorrhea

With gonorrhea, women tend to have fewer symptoms than do men. John Palmer who works with the Southcentral Foundation's STD program, agrees that the patients they see are experiencing milder symptoms. Southcentral serves Alaska Natives residing in Anchorage. "Guys are ingrained if you've got gonorrhea, you're going to have burning and heavy discharge," said Palmer. But with the new strain of the infection, they may only have tingling or perhaps some on again/off again burning or discharge, he said.

In the past, symptoms caused gonorrhea-infected women to seek medical treatment from between 1-3 months, while men would show up at their physician within 1-3 weeks.

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