The CDC, the United States main Center for Disease Prevention and Control health center, came out with a report this week regarding sexually transmitted diseases. It showcases the results of a nationwide STD rates research, and Alaska once again has a most unfortunate accolade — it’s at the top of it.
The health center’s results are released retroactively, meaning that the STD Surveillance Report released the other day was for 2018. In it, Alaska topped the ranks when it came to chlamydia cases per capita, and it came second in the case of gonorrhea. Those trends remain unchanged from the 2017 STD report, where Alaska’s ranking was identical.
But it gets worse, as this trend is not just an alarming new occurrence. Alaska has been chlamydia’s favorite state since the Surveillance Report started, back in 1996. It has also come in second place for the number of gonorrhea cases since that same year over 20 years ago.
The CDC stated that Alaska isn’t just going through the standard motions, but they’ve been experiencing an outbreak of gonorrhea as of October 2017. Its gonococcal infection rates are perpetually higher than the rest of the nation, and they seem to have been getting even more out of control in the last two years.
According to the data, there were 6,159 patients with chlamydia and 2,247 patients with gonorrhea in the state of Alaska in 2018. While the state seems complacent with its unfortunate leadership, the statistics are truly alarming. Clearly, Alaskans are still lacking awareness when it comes to getting tested for STDs or just practicing safe sex to begin with.
If we break it down by month, the Alaskan Division of Public Health found that March of last year was when a syphilis outbreak happened in the state. While the numbers are below the national average, they have spiked significantly in-state, and Alaska’s syphilis rates continue to increase. The CDC report particularly pointed out that congenital syphilis is on the rise, which means that mothers with the disease then pass it on to the fetus. The report also shows that syphilis has infected more women than men in the past year.
Women have been advised by Alaska’s doctors to do a screening as soon as they notice any symptoms. It is a crucial first step that can reduce or eliminate possible complications later on. If a woman fears she has been exposed to syphilis and has a rash on her skin, or any sores, she should contact her GP immediately.
Another saddening statistic is that HIV has been on the rise in the state, particularly in the city of Fairbanks. This particular STD was not covered by the Surveillance Report, but Alaska’s health officials have sounded off on this grim piece of statistics too.
Susan Jones, one of the managers for the STD/HIV Program, noted that sexually transmitted illnesses are easily acquired in this state, unfortunately. She also points out that most individuals will have contracted more than one STD at a time, as the reports clearly show. Jones insists that the diseases only appear to be minor inconveniences, but they are not as benign as they seem. If left untreated, they can cause lifelong complications.
Jones appealed to her fellow Alaskans via the media and asked everyone to work in unison to stop the spread of these infections. Getting tested is the first step, Jones highlighted, and it is up to the individual to face it. This will help the individual and their current and past partners deal with the new reality.
However, it is a threefold task, she said. The job of the patient is to make sure they are practicing safe sex and educating themselves about this. The job of the healthcare providers is to test the patients and prescribe the drugs necessary to treat those diseases. Finally, it is the job of the public health office to actually react and help control the scale of the outbreaks.
Alaska is not the only state struggling with such defeating statistics. Nationwide, reports show that STDs have been on the rise everywhere for five years in a row. They reached an all-time peak in 2018. The CDC has looked into the reason for such an all-encompassing increase. There are many factors at play, both in Alaska and in all the other states.
Firstly, data shows that all high-risk groups have reduced their use of condoms during intercourse. Next, despite countrywide efforts, fewer people have medical coverage for STD testing, or there is simply a lack of access to STD clinics. Likewise, the notification services have decreased in various localities, so partners of the infected person never get notified by the health officials. Of course, sometimes the patient simply doesn’t know they are infected due to the asymptotic nature of these diseases. This means that the person is a carrier but has absolutely no symptoms to indicate they should be tested for anything. Last but not least, the social stigma when it comes to getting tested has not diminished, and neither has the discrimination.
Perhaps the most saddening data is the increase in congenital syphilis, which had a 40% spike all over the United States. Those cases of infected newborns accounted for 14% of the total STD cases in that year. Alaska ranked somewhere in the middle of the list for all syphilis infections — for primary and secondary carriers and congenital syphilis. However, the number of cases has just about doubled compared to the 2013–2017 statistics.
When it comes to the other two most common sexually transmitted diseases, they’ve also increased compared to those years. Gonorrhea has gone up by 5% in the country, and chlamydia by 3%.
The CDC report said that urgent action is necessary to turn these gruesome statistics around. All the stakeholders, they insist, need to do their part to control these outbreaks and counteract all the underlying reasons they happen in the first place. They informed the public that they are helping develop a federal action plan to put a stop to the spread of disease and get the rates plummeting down.