Sexually transmitted diseases, also known as sexually transmitted infections, are a large problem in Alaska. The Center for Disease Control state profile data for Alaska in 2015 ranked the state as first in the nation for chlamydia infections and fourth in the nation for gonorrheal infections per capita. People at the greatest risk and highest chance of being infected with an STD are close to the age of the majority of UAA’s students, with nearly half of the 20 million STDs diagnosed each year belonging to the 15-24 age group, according to the CDC.
The UAA Student Health and Counseling Center offers free visits and cheap treatment and screening options for UAA students, according to family nurse practitioner Betty Bang.
“So when students come in, first they need to let us know why they’re coming in. And the office visit is free; it’s part of student fees they’ve already paid,” said Bang. “The screenings right now are pretty reasonable. Gonorrhea and chlamydia together is $12 bucks to be screened, and the medication to treat for chlamydia I think is $3. Gonorrhea, I think, is $3 for the one [dose] and a $1.50 for the injection. It is not [an] expensive treatment for these things. Herpes is a cycle, we’ll give someone a bottle of 100 [doses] for $10, probably a lot less than that.”
Since STDs are such a prevalent problem in Alaska, Bang recommends that all sexually active students utilize the inexpensive Health Center screening.
“I would just encourage people to regularly get screened,” Bang said. “People say, ‘Well, how often should I get screened?’ Well, every time you have a different partner you need to get screened. We try to demystify the whole thing by, like when we do our free STD screening day. We usually do that in February, this year it will probably be Valentine’s Day. We usually do the real common ones, we usually do gonorrhea chlamydia, and… HIV and syphilis. Usually at least a hundred [show up.] I think the first year we did it, there [were] 150… there [were] a lot of people.”
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the most common STDs in Alaska, but things like crabs, trichomoniasis or ‘tric’, HIV, and herpes are also pretty commonly found in Alaska. People with STDs can asymptomatic, meaning that they have the disease and are giving it to their partner, but are not actively experiencing overt symptoms. Bang said that the lack of symptoms does not mean there is any damage being done by the STD.
“You still can develop a PID, pelvic inflammatory disease, if you’re a woman and become infertile…sometimes it takes a while for that infection to get to the point where you are very ill,” Bang said. “Other things it can do, in males it can cause epididymitis. They’re kind of silent. You could not have had a lot of symptoms of that and still it could have affected your reproductive system.”
A very dangerous STD to leave untreated is syphilis. Bang said that syphilis is on the rise in Anchorage especially for anyone who has a male partner that may have other male partners or might be bisexual.
“Syphilis we see less often but there was an upsurge in Anchorage, and that’s a really complicated disease actually,” Bang said. “Syphilis can have very very bad consequences it can lead to neurological problems. It can attack your nervous system causing un-coordination, blindness, insanity and death. So, syphilis is a bad one…it can start with a lesion ten to 90 days after sex, and then one to two months later a rash and then years later it continues to attack your organs. That one they treat you with serious antibiotics, depending on what stage you’re in.”
Bang recommends regular screenings but there are other methods students can utilize to reduce their risk of getting an STD.
“Condoms are really important and we give those away for free at the Health Center,” Bang said. “It would be nice if students had some information about their partner, like knew their name and how to get a hold of them. The biggest thing is don’t be afraid to come in and tell us what’s going on. Get your [Human Papilloma Virus] vaccines, use condoms and get screened for STIs.”
The CDC website also has recommendations for sexually active people on how to maintain sexual health and reduce chances of getting and STD.
“The most reliable ways to avoid transmission of STDs, including HIV infection, are to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner,” the CDC website states. “Latex male and female condoms, when used consistently and correctly, can reduce the risk of transmission of some STDs.”
Planned Parenthood’s center located on Lake Otis Parkway also offers STD screening and treatment with the cost of that ranging from $90 to $200. Alaska Public Affairs Manager for Planned Parenthood, Jessica Cler, said that costs for treatment and service vary but that they never turn people away.
“It’s $90 to $200 depending on the level of service, so once again hard to give just one answer to that, but we never turn away a patient for inability to pay and we offer many payment options to ensure patients get the kind of care they need. We also accept insurance,” Cler said.
Planned Parenthood offers many of the same services as the UAA Health and Counseling Center including chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis, herpes testing and treatment, and external genital warts and cervical cancer testing and treatment as well as vaccinations for HPV, according to Cler.