ANCHORAGE - Alaska is ranked highest in the nation for infection from the sexually-transmitted disease chlamydia.
The state received reports of 3,900 chlamydia cases in 2003, the most recent year for which information has been compiled, according to the state Section of Epidemiology. More than two-thirds of the cases were in women. It was the third year in a row that Alaska ranked highest.
Alaska's rate of infection was 606 cases of chlamydia reported for every 100,000 Alaskans. That's higher than the 591 cases per 100,000 people reported in 2002 and the 437 cases reported in 2001.
Chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial STD in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Untreated infections can lead to infertility, especially in women. Chlamydia can be prevented by using a condom when having sex.
Wendy Craytor, the HIV/STD program coordinator for Alaska, said the rise in cases is not surprising, partly because the state has been looking harder for them.
"We really make every effort to follow up on each reported case of chlamydia, to interview the person and work with them to get their sexual partners notified of their exposure, tested and treated," Craytor said.
Testing also has become easier. Health officials can now detect chlamydia and gonorrhea, another STD, using a urine test. The other available test requires using a swab.
State health officials reported a decrease in the number of cases of gonorrhea. There were 573 reported cases in Alaska in 2003, which was an 11 percent decrease in the infection rate from 2002, according to the Section of Epidemiology.
In recent years, the state's gonorrhea rate put Alaska in the middle of the pack when comparing it to the rest of the states, Craytor said.
The rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea were highest among young men and women compared with those of other age groups. They also were highest among Alaska Natives, American Indians and blacks versus other ethnic and racial groups.
Alaska Natives and American Indians accounted for 46 percent of chlamydia cases and 52 percent of the gonorrhea cases but only 18 percent of the state's population, a state health report said.
Craytor said the increased rates could be due to increased screening of Native people. There also may be an association between race and economic disadvantage, making it more difficult for some people to protect themselves during sex or avoid it, she said.
People can be infected with chlamydia and gonorrhea and not know it because the diseases sometimes cause few or no symptoms.
"The symptoms can be so vague that it's hard to know if something is going on," said Lisa Rea of the city health department's Reproductive Health Clinic.
That's especially true of chlamydia, she said. Men with symptoms of either disease could experience burning when they urinate and a discharge from the penis. Women can have vaginal discharge and bleeding between periods, Rea said. Some people might experience itching.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are both caused by bacteria, so both are treated with antibiotics.