‘Know Your Status’ during gonorrhea outbreak

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services warned Alaskans to be aware of a gonorrhea outbreak in a press release on Oct. 3. The release said there was a 31 percent increase in cases reported from 2015 to 2016 and that the trend continued into 2017.

Photo credit: Levi Brown

“During the first 6 months of 2017, there were 1,035 cases reported,” the DHSS release said. “More than half of those cases (56 percent) occurred in Anchorage, and 58 percent were in individuals aged 29 or younger.”

Susan Jones, HIV/STD Program Manager for the State of Alaska, said the infection affects all age ranges but particularly those in the college age demographic.

“In 2017 we are probably going to have more than 2,000 case reports of gonorrhea and that, for us, is an outbreak, and we declared an outbreak last year in the summertime because we had an increase in case numbers,” Jones said.

Health professionals at UAA are targeting and treating sexually transmitted disease at a free Know Your Status screening on Feb.13 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Student Health and Counseling Center.

“On that date, students can get gonorrhea, chlamydia [HIV and syphilis] testing… men can do urine, women can do vaginal or urine and then we’ll do other sites also such as oral or anal depending on what sexual activity they’re having,” Betty Bang, family nurse practitioner, said.

A typical test can cost anywhere from $12 to $24, depending on whether or not blood needs to be drawn, at the SHCC. Know Your Status offers all testing to students for free.

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“We’re going to encourage all students to come to our healthy sexuality resource fair and to the free testing,” Bang said. “But don’t wait.”

Students can visit the SHCC any day to get tested and treated for a sexually transmitted disease, and Jones recommends that students get tested to slow the outbreak.

“If you think you are at risk… get tested. If you have an infection, the only way that we can control the outbreak is to get everyone who’s been exposed to your infection to get them treated,” Jones said.

Gonorrhea and chlamydia are both treatable diseases but left untreated they can cause serious complications to both male and female reproductive systems. Jones said there are several behaviors students could adopt to lower their risks of infection.

“[The] first piece of advice: don’t have sex. And if you are going to have sex, protect yourself,” Jones said. “There’s a whole range of behaviors that you can do to protect yourself: you can reduce the number of sexual partners you have, you can alter the type of sexual behavior you have so you’re not exchanging bodily fluids and putting yourself at risk for acquiring infection, you can use protection. Latex condoms are really good to protect [from] sexually transmitted diseases.”

Pregnant women can also pass the disease on to their children if left untreated.