AHS urges safer sex practices after sharp rise in STIs and Hep C cases

By Lara Fominoff @LaraFominoff on Twitter
June 14, 2018 - 10:20am

LETHBRIDGE -  Rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise in the South Health Zone, and Alberta Health is warning the public to practice safer sex.

In 2016, there were 983 cases of Chlamydia reported, 84 cases of gonorrhea and seven cases of infectious syphilis.

By 2017, those numbers sharply increased, with 1,071 cases of Chlamydia reported, 127 cases of gonorrhea and 13 cases of infectious syphilis- nearly double the number from the previous year.

And the trend is continuing this year as well.

Dr. Vivian Suttorp says while there is a concentration of infections among the 15-24 age group, all demographics-young to old-are being infected.

"It's sort of this exponentially increasing issue and we have to get on top of it. It's not something that usually changes within a day or two, or a week. We're looking at changes over a number of years...it's spanning all ages groups of those who are sexually active and all communities."

AHS says those recently infected with gonorrhea may have had numerous sexual contacts, both know to them and anonymous, who may have potentially been exposed.

But Suttorp says there are several ways someone can protect themselves from getting an STI.

"When you have a new partner, ask about STIs and whether or not someone has had an STI and whether it's been treated. Secondly, use protection. Thirdly, get tested. If you have a new partner, get tested. If you have frequent partners, get tested every three to six months. Fourth, if you are prescribed treatment for one of these diseases, it's very important that you complete the treatment...fifthly, often after treatment, we also test for cure, to make sure that the disease has been cured."

She says two years ago, a province-wide outbreak was identified, however it had not hit the south zone as hard as other areas. But during the last few months of 2017 and first few months of 2018, the numbers have gone up significantly.

"So much so, “says Suttorp,"that there have been significant increases in the last few weeks."

There are multiple factors responsible for the increase, including changes in behaviour. Suttorp says many individuals with STIs also use drugs, which changes cognitive functioning and decision making, and another component is that many infections occur with anonymous partners wanting a quick hook-up.

"And when they're anonymous partners, public health has a challenge in contacting those partners, because we don't know who they are."

There may not be any symptoms of an STI, at first, she says. Up to 90 per cent of those infected with Chlamydia don't have symptoms until complications of the infection set in.

Up to 40 per cent of those with gonorrhea don't have symptoms either.

Others may have pain when they're urinating, some may have a discharge from their urethral areas or anus. Others get eye infections and discharge.

Suttorp urges anyone who may think they have been infected, who have had anonymous sexual encounters or those who are having sex with a new partner and aren't sure whether that partner has ever had or been treated for an STI, to get tested immediately.

Meantime, the incidence of Hepatitis C, which is spread solely through intravenous drug use, has also sharply risen in the South Health Zone.

In 2015, there were 82 cases. By 2016 that shot up to 113, and in 2017 there were 135 cases.

For more information from Alberta Health, go to http://sexgerms.com/ 

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