The state of Alaska presents a mixed picture when it comes to the prevalence of certain sexually transmitted diseases and infections. On one hand, the state ranks at or near the very top for chlamydia and gonorrhea but comes in near the bottom for syphilis and HIV. However, a disturbing trend is shaping up here in Alaska — the rate of primary and secondary syphilis has exploded in the past two years with more cases being reported in 2018 than the previous four years combined. Reported rates of most other sexually transmitted diseases have risen here as well, which mirrors a national trend that’s seen chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis become more common in the United States in each of the past four years.
Which STDs are most common here in Alaska, how have their population-adjusted rates changed over time, and which regions of the state have the highest concentrations and rates of infected individuals? To shed light on Alaska’s STD situation, we’ll examine data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Chlamydia Rates in Alaska
Just under 6,000 people in Alaska were newly diagnosed with chlamydia in 2017. By sheer numbers, the state ranks 40th, but after accounting for population differences among the states, Alaska moves up to No. 1 with a population-adjusted rate that’s more than 50% higher than the overall rate for the United States.
Chlamydia infections per 100,000 people
Chlamydia rates have mostly risen in our state over the past half-decade, though the total increase since 2012 is just 7%. Some states have seen their chlamydia rates rise by far more, including New Hampshire, where the chlamydia rate rose 40.2% between 2013 and 2017.
Alaska chlamydia rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
Alaska’s nation- and region-leading rate is more than double Utah, the state in the West with the lowest chlamydia rate.
Chlamydia infection rate, Western states (cases per 100,000 people)
Gonorrhea Rates in Alaska
Alaska ranks second just behind Mississippi for the prevalence of gonorrhea in the state. Alaska’s rate is just 5% lower than Mississippi’s, but it’s approaching double the overall U.S. rate.
Gonorrhea infections per 100,000 people
The gonorrhea rate in Alaska has varied widely, though it’s on a sharp upward trajectory, climbing nearly 50% between 2016 and 2017 alone.
Alaska gonorrhea rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
Alaska has the highest gonorrhea rate among all Western states, and our rate is more than five times higher than Idaho, the Western state with the lowest rate.
Gonorrhea infection rate, Western states (cases per 100,000 people)
Syphilis Rates in Alaska
Alaska ranks 21st nationally with a rate that’s lower than the total national rate, but there’s a catch: Alaska health officials reported an outbreak of syphilis in 2018, with total syphilis cases (including all stages, not just primary and secondary) rising by nearly 300% from the previous year.
Primary and secondary syphilis infections per 100,000 people, top 25
While the syphilis rate had some variation before 2018, it’s easy to see the huge jump in the prevalence of primary and secondary syphilis in our state. More cases of primary and secondary syphilis were reported in 2018 than from 2014 to 2017 combined.
Alaska primary and secondary syphilis rate by year (cases per 100,000 people)
Thanks to the 2018 syphilis outbreak, Alaska moves up from second-to-last in the West to the middle of the region.
Primary and secondary syphilis infection rates, Western states (cases per 100,000 people)
HIV & Other STD Rates in Alaska
Just over two-dozen people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Alaska in 2017, giving the state the eighth-lowest population-adjusted HIV rate in the nation. In addition to its relatively low frequency of HIV, Alaska has managed to make progress against the virus, recording a 22% decline in the HIV rate between 2016 and 2017. See best HIV test options.
Hepatitis B & C
Acute infections of the hepatitis B virus occur at a slightly lower rate in Alaska than they do in the nation as a whole, but the hep B rate in our state is on the rise, climbing 50% between 2015 and 2016 alone. Alaska has not reported acute rates of hepatitis C virus. See best hepatitis test options.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world. It also happens to be the leading cause of several types of cancer, including cervical, penile and anal cancers. HPV is so common, in fact, that pinpointing exactly how many people have it is virtually impossible. But by examining the rates of HPV-related cancers, we can begin to understand how serious a problem untreated HPV is. Alaska’s population-adjusted rate of cancers caused by HPV is 39th in the nation at 11 per 100,000, a bit lower than the national median of 11.7 per 100,000. See best HPV test options.
STDs in Alaska Regions
Alaska’s position as a state with relatively high rates of several sexually transmitted diseases is due in large part to the handful of population centers across the state, including Anchorage, and Fairbanks.
The Anchorage/Mat-Su region, which includes the city of Anchorage, accounted for nearly half of all chlamydia cases in the state. The Interior region, which includes Fairbanks, added another 15%.
Alaska regions by chlamydia infection rate (cases per 100,000 people)
|Copper River/Prince William Sound||407.6|
|Aleutian & Pribilofs||370.6|
Nearly two-thirds of all gonorrhea cases in Alaska were diagnosed in people living in the Anchorage area.
Alaska regions by gonorrhea infection rate (cases per 100,000 people)
|Aleutian & Pribilofs||54.2|
|Copper River/Prince William Sound||*|
Primary and secondary syphilis
The state did not report regional numbers for primary and secondary syphilis, but 85% of all individuals diagnosed with any stage of syphilis lived in the urban centers of Anchorage, Juneau or Fairbanks.
Alaska has relatively high rates of multiple sexually transmitted diseases, including chlamydia and gonorrhea. And when you add in the recent syphilis outbreak, the picture of the STD crisis in our state could seem dire. But remember, the state’s HIV rate has fallen in recent years, so there’s no doubt that progress against STDs is possible. Most people who are infected with an STD are not aware they have any STDs, which is partly why these diseases and infections spread so readily. Helping bring down rates of sexually transmitted diseases and infections requires every sexually active person to empower themselves with knowledge so that if they are infected, they can not only get treatment but also avoid passing their infection along to others.
Take Charge of Your Sexual Health Today
At-home, private, testing is probably the best way to maintain a long and healthy sex life, and you should continue to do it until you are with a monogamous partner and you’ve both tested negative for all STDs. To get started, review our Home STD Test Kit options today because knowledge, is power.
- Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Sexually Transmitted Disease Program. (Undated). Retrieved from http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/hivstd/Pages/std.aspx
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV Surveillance Report, Diagnoses of HIV Infection in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2017. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/pdf/library/reports/surveillance/cdc-hiv-surveillance-report-2017-vol-29.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 2017. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats17/SRtables.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV-Associated Cancer Rates by State, 2011-2015. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/statistics/state/index.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Surveillance for Viral Hepatitis – United States, 2016. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/statistics/2016surveillance/index.htm
Note: Some states have published more recent data for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary and secondary syphilis. For states in which that’s the case, we have substituted the individual state data for 2018 and used that in our rankings, while other states’ rankings are based on 2017 numbers. In some cases, we assume that when the full national dataset is published by the CDC, states’ positions relative to other states will change some, though those changes are unlikely to be dramatic, since the CDC data comes from the states.