New technologies used to combat rise of sexually transmitted diseases

By  | 

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Alaska is currently experiencing outbreaks of gonorrhea and syphilis across the state.

The state and city of Anchorage are currently trying to combat the problem using methods that may not be widely known.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has a small department of four people known as Disease Intervention Specialists (DIS), their current role is to speak to someone after a positive diagnosis is made for a sexually transmitted disease.

The DIS is focusing on HIV/AIDS, syphilis and gonorrhea in high-risk patients.

Jessica Harvill, who works as a public health specialist II with the state, says DIS can be used for more "spectacular" diseases like Ebola but for now, their focus is on the more day-to-day STDs seen across the state.

A person with a STD diagnosis will speak to a DIS as the officials then try to work out "who else close to the person could benefit from being tested," says Harvill.

The state, and the city with their own small DIS service, can then be voluntarily directed to contact those at-risk people and ask them to call right away "about an important health issue." Harvill explains that contact is done by text message, phone, and even private social media such as Facebook messenger.

There are however very specific rules: confidentiality is a must, meaning the gender and the name of the person with the STD aren't shared and neither are the dates of when the STD was possibly contracted.

The specific STD that a person may have contracted is also not divulged electronically.

Jessica Downes, a registered nurse and clinical services supervisor with the Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services, says some people who have received the message have thought it was a hoax.

Harvill emphasizes this a legitimate public health initiative and if contacted, a person should call the relevant authority listed in the message. The at-risk person can then get tested and get treated if needed.