Guam facing more cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea
July 3, 2006
Guam has the fifth-highest rate of chlamydia in the United States and its reported cases of gonorrhea went up more than 80 percent in the last year for which data is available, according to the island’s public health department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The public health department has yet to pinpoint the cause of the increased numbers, but Bernie Schumann, the program supervisor for Guam’s sexually transmitted disease and HIV prevention program, said Guam’s transient population of tourists, immigrants and servicemembers plays a role.
“We’re not sure what to attribute to,” Schumann said. “I think with a mobile population and a sex industry … that all will facilitate the transmissions.”
The statistics include cases reported by military health officials in Guam, who share their case data with the island’s public health office, she said.
People younger than 30 are at a higher risk of contracting the infections, Schumann said.
“Those numbers are rising in the public, private and military sector,” she said. “Some sex partners won’t know they carry the disease. Some have limited access about understanding the disease.”
Schumann said military officials on ships that have liberty time in Guam educate their servicemembers about STDs before embarking on the island.
At Andersen Air Force Base, all new Air Force members assigned to Guam receive a briefing about STDs, according to the base’s public affairs office. In 2005, 1.4 percent of 1,750 the base’s active-duty servicemembers tested positive for an STD; so far this year, the rate is 0.9 percent, according to Lt. John Griffin, the base’s public affairs officer.
Public affairs officials at U.S. Naval Forces Marianas did not respond to repeated inquiries for similar information.
In 2004, the latest year from which data is available, Guam had 803 reported cases of chlamydia, up from 598 the previous year, Schumann said. Chlamydia’s symptoms usually are mild or nonexistent, but the infection can cause sterility in women if left untreated. A woman with chlamydia also is five times more likely to contract HIV, the infection that causes AIDS, according to the CDC.
From 2003 to 2004, the number of reported gonorrhea cases went from 68 to 125, according to Schumann’s office. Symptoms for gonorrhea can include a burning sensation when urinating and aches in joints, though women often show no symptoms at all. If left untreated, women with gonorrhea can develop pelvic inflammatory disease and, if pregnant, pass the infection on to children. The disease can cause infertility and can increase the likelihood of contracting HIV for both men and women.
Both diseases are bacterial infections treatable with antibiotics, Schumann said. Using condoms also can reduce the likelihood of contracting the diseases, she said.
Schumann said Guam requires quarterly testing for STDs at local massage parlors but not at any other businesses.
To get tested
Tests for any sexually transmitted disease can be conducted at military health clinics at Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base as well as at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam. Tests also can be done at Guam’s Public Health Department at 123 Chalan Kareta, Route 10, Mangilao. Call 735-7102 (commercial) for more information.