SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS ARE A GROWING PROBLEM
BY melissa boyette, alaska department of health and social services
Alaska is currently having two outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STI), both gonorrhea and syphilis. This is on top of the already high rates of chlamydia Alaska has experienced for years. Since January 2017, five percent of cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis, and 10% of new cases of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in 2017 were among Hispanics.
These bacterial infections can be cured, but can cause serious health complications if left untreated. The majority of people with gonorrhea and chlamydia have no symptoms. People who do have symptoms can experience burning on urination, vaginal or penile discharge, pelvic pain, and infertility. Syphilis can cause a painless sore followed by rash, hair loss and painful genital or mouth sores. Without treatment, syphilis can be very serious and cause permanent neurological damage such as loss of vision and hearing, or psychosis. All of these infections can be very serious in pregnant women, and can cause complications during pregnancy and after birth.
Many people do not have symptoms of sexually transmitted infections and HIV, so the best way to know if you are infected is to get tested regularly, especially if you are sexually active and have not been using condoms, or if you use needles for drug injection. Having an STI also increases your risk of getting HIV by two to five times if you are exposed.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) recommends that sexually active adults get tested for STIs including HIV at least once per year. Testing is available at any healthcare facility. In Anchorage, people without health insurance can get tested at the Municipality of Anchorage Reproductive Health Clinic, 825 L St, (907) 343-3623 or at Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands, 4001 Lake Otis Pkwy, (800) 769-0045.
If you test positive for an STI or HIV, DHSS recommends that you notify your sexual partners and cooperate with health department staff that may contact you to assist in this process. Ensuring testing and treatment of people that have been exposed is an important strategy for managing and preventing the increase in sexually transmitted infections in Alaska.
There are many strategies to prevent getting an STI, including HIV. Condoms used consistently and correctly prevent transmission of HIV and most sexually transmitted infections. Getting tested regularly for STI/HIV and immediately getting proper treatment if you test positive can prevent transmission to your partners, and can also help prevent serious health complications.
Being in a monogamous relationship with only one partner who has also been tested and is negative for STI/HIV can be an effective prevention strategy. For prevention of HIV, those at highest risk can talk to their doctor about whether pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which is a prescription pill that is taken once daily for prevention of HIV infection, is a good tool for them. Using these strategies in combination is the best way to prevent infection and avoid health complications.
With questions or for more information call the DHSS HIV/STD Program at (907) 269-8000.
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