The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta still tops the list for the highest number of cases of gonorrhea, a serious sexually transmitted infection, according to a recent state report. Public health officials say that Alaska is in the grip of a national outbreak of gonorrhea.
Without treatment, the consequences can be severe, says Alaska State Epidemiologist Joseph McLaughlin.
"It’s very important for folks to be aware that gonorrhea infection can result in some serious consequences if left untreated, including pelvic inflammatory disease, pre-term labor, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility," McLaughlin said.
There is some good news. While the state grapples with a spike in cases, the Y-K Delta actually saw the number of gonorrhea infections drop over the past couple of years. For instance, in 2010 officals reported 1,316 cases per 100,000 people in the region. That number dropped to 390 per 100,000 in 2015.
Public health officials attribute the decrease in cases to better treatment, access to medicine, and following up after treatment. But they add that people shouldn’t let their guard down just because the number fell. McLaughlin says that the best ways to prevent the disease are abstinence, or asking one's partner about past sexual history and urging them to get tested.
Gonorrhea is particularly common among young people and Alaska Natives. Public health officials urge people to get screened for sexually transmitted infections and get treatment if they spot signs of infection.