Alaskans are more at risk of getting sexually transmitted diseases and the numbers keep going up. State health officials say the rising rates are behind a push to get more people tested and treated right away.
Some people think they are immune to STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis or HIV, but doctors say the risks are real and deadly.
Helping the city's at-risk or homeless youth avoid dangerous situations is what peer outreach workers from Alaska Youth Advocates do on a daily basis. Among those dangers are STDs, which the state Department of Health and Social Services says are going up. Reported chlamydia cases are up 5 percent, gonorrhea up 55 percent, and syphilis up 60 percent.
Only seven months into 2014, the state has seen 24 cases of HIV -- the same amount as Alaska had in all of 2013. As a result of those stark numbers, state officials want people who have multiple sex partners and unprotected sex to get tested and treated.
"HIV and syphilis can be life-threatening -- it's not just an urban thing, it's not just a rural thing, STDs are occurring statewide in high numbers," said state epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin.
"It's not who you are, but it's what you do that puts you at risk for an STD; it doesn't matter if you're a big-wig executive, or anybody else."
Alaska Youth Advocates is offering youth ages 13 to 24 free and confidential STD tests and services.
"We have seen a great increase of folks showing up positive for chylamydia and gonorrhea," said Laura Herman, AYA's power program coordinator. "We can talk about it, and we can through those conversations educate folks on how they can protect themselves and what they need to do."
At DHSS, a pro active focus that could save lives that the state says needs to be taken more seriously. "If your having sex with anybody who is a new partner, the recommendation is to go get tested," said McLaughlin. McLaughlin says if you are having multiple sex partners, you need to go get tested more frequently. At least annually but he recommends every 3 to 6 months. And for those who may be embarrassed about going in, the doctor says, health care providers do this type of testing every day on a lot of people.
For more information on how to get tested and treated, the website IKnowMine.org hosts an STD clinic locator.