Alaska leads country in chlamydia cases

By Andrew Sheeler
Sun Star Reporter

Alaska has one of the highest rates in the nation of chlamydia, particularly among college-age women.

Alaska has had the highest or second highest rate of chlamydia infections in the country since the year 2000, according to the Alaska Epidemiology Bulletin published last month. In 2008 alone, 711 cases per 100,000 people were reported to the Department of Health and Social Services. That rate was second only to Mississippi with 728 and well above the national average of 401 cases per 100,000.

The reason for the high rate, said state epidemiologists, is the rate of repeat infections, particularly among college-age females. In a study looking at Alaskan patients between the years 2002 and 2006, researchers found that 22 percent of patients with a primary infection had at least one repeat infection within three years. 76 percent of those with repeat infections were female. 80 percent were under 25 years of age.

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease reported. It is often called a silent disease because of its lack of symptoms. The only way to confirm Chlamydia infection is by regular testing and the only way to prevent it is to avoid having unprotected sex with an infected partner. Chlamydia is easily treated but, left untreated, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and sterility.

Dr. BJ Aldrich, director of UAF’s Center for Health and Counseling said that the campus clinic has treated about 8 cases of Chlamydia since last September. Aldrich said that, on average, the health center diagnoses 12 to 15 cases a year. That doesn’t account for students who are diagnosed and treated at Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, private practices around town or on Fort Wainwright.

Chlamydia infection is often seen in patients that have also been infected with gonorrhea, another common STD. Both diseases, when they show any symptoms at all, may be accompanied by a burning sensation during urination. Aldrich said that, on campus, gonorrhea is not diagnosed nearly as often as chlamydia. “In the past nine years I’ve been here I’ve had less than five [cases of gonorrhea],” she said.

That doesn’t mean that gonorrhea is not a concern at UAF. The disease has a history of surging and waning in Alaska, and right now it’s on the rise, said Jennifer Schmidt of the Fairbanks Regional Public Health Center. “We’ve been seeing an increase of gonorrhea,” Schmidt said. She attributed the rising rate to people moving into the community or members of the community traveling and unknowingly bringing the infection back with them.

Not knowing you have it is the problem, said Schmidt. Because chlamydia – and gonorrhea-infected patients are often asymptomatic, the only way to curtail the spread of the disease is through regular testing, about once every three months for those in high-risk groups.

That’s why the Fairbanks Regional Public Health Center has been putting up flyers across campus. The flyers depict urine cups full of razors or matches and urge students not to wait until it burns. “We have been putting up flyers to remind people there’s free and confidential testing for STDs,” said Schmidt. “If they’ve had unprotected sex, they should be tested; and it’s free.”

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