Alaska: Bethel Organizes as the Rate of Chlamydia Infection Climbs
September 8, 2006
For the last 10 years, Alaska has reported some of the highest numbers of chlamydia cases in the nation, and state health officials are organizing against its numerous causes.
The greatest increase in cases occurred in Alaska's southwest region, where Bethel, with a population of 5,609 people, is the largest village. At the state-run Bethel Regional Health Center, Tim Struna directs six nurses in a community campaign against the STD. However, there are four nurse vacancies, and finding qualified candidates wanting to work in remote Bethel is "a chronic problem," said Struna.
Struna's colleagues joined the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. to reach those most at risk of the infection -- people ages 15-24 -- presenting lessons in classrooms at the community high school and college. Since November, Struna and an informal task force have met in monthly strategy sessions to tackle chlamydia, which is confounded by many intervening issues.
"We really can't address this disease without addressing all of the other factors," said Struna. "These other factors include domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse, possible loss of cultural identity. There's a high suicide rate. There are a number of things we all need to look at that are all interdependent on one another."
The southwest region reported 592 cases last year, up by 256 cases from 2004. In Anchorage and Mat-Su Borough, there were 2,273 cases, an increase of 236 cases.
"What we don't do at present is a lot of TV or radio or newspaper advertising," said Dr. Richard Mandsager, director of Alaska's Division of Public Health. "There isn't budgetary support ... for that kind of activity at present."
More sensitive, less invasive urine testing has simplified chlamydia screening, leading to more testing. That might explain a rise in cases seen nationally, "but not at the number that we have," said Dr. Bernd Jilly, chief of state Public Health Laboratories. "It seems to be a bona fide problem and not just because we're looking for it."
09.07.2006; Dustin Solberg