Alaska is still facing a syphilis outbreak while dealing with COVID, DHSS says

Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 6:12 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Department of Health and Social Services has been focused on COVID-19 since March, but during the past year, they say another outbreak has grown larger than previously reported. This time, it’s a syphilis outbreak.

A syphilis outbreak was first declared in 2018 when 114 cases were reported to state epidemiologists. By 2019, the state saw a 112% increase in cases with a majority of the cases being newly acquired and infectious.

“This is a reminder that as we battle the COVID-19 pandemic, there are other outbreaks that need our attention,” Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska’s State Epidemiologist, said in a prepared statement.

Alaska still has one of the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases in the nation, DHSS said. Diseases like syphilis can have adverse effects on the heart, brain and other organs if not treated properly.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control has offered some guidance for how states should continue to offer STD services.

“During this time, a flexible and pragmatic approach that minimizes reductions in STD care and treatment is needed in areas where clinical services are at risk of being, or have been, disrupted,” the CDC said in its Dear Colleague letter.

The State of Alaska Epidemiology Bulletin on syphilis was published Thursday. The bulletin said the primary drivers in the increase were heterosexual men and women, which is raises concerns about an increase in congenital syphilis, or syphilis passed from the mother to the baby.

The CDC recommends states with STD clinics open but with capacity restrictions to prioritize patients that have STD symptoms and groups that are considered high risk.

DHSS says STD rates are at an all-time high nationwide and in Alaska. To reduce the spread of the disease, the department advises Alaskans to take precautions and use a condom, get tested regularly, seek treatment and inform partners if you test positive for a sexually transmitted disease.

For more information about testing locations visit the DHSS website on STD Awareness.

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