Gonorrhea rate drops significantly in Alaska

After two years of spiking upward, the number of reported Alaska cases of one common sexually spread disease -- gonorrhea -- is down markedly.

State health officials on Thursday announced the reversal of what had been a steep climb here in gonorrhea cases. They wanted to let health providers and patients know they've made a difference.

Reported gonorrhea infections dropped 23 percent from the first nine months of this year compared with the same period in 2010, the state health bulletin said. That's a significant drop, from 1,005 cases in 2010 down to 770 cases this year.

"This bulletin is to say 'Bravo, everyone. Keep up the good work,' " said Susan Jones, the state STD/HIV program manager.

The Alaska numbers remain high and health care providers -- and patients -- should stay vigilant, Jones said.

No one knows for sure why the gonorrhea cases dropped. State health officials say there has been more emphasis on notifying partners of infected patients, so that they can get help, too, and not infect others or re-infect the one already treated.

Health care providers may have become more aware of the gonorrhea epidemic.

And increasingly, partners of infected patients are getting the antibiotics that will rid them of gonorrhea without even having to go to the doctor. The patient may be able to get the medicine for them, or a health care provider can call it into the pharmacy without seeing them, state officials say.

"I think the biggest impact of having a gonorrhea outbreak is that it has raised the issue of sexually transmitted infections to the forefront, both publicly and in the eyes of providers," said Clover Simon, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood in Alaska.

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