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Gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis: STIs on the rise in Sudbury, but city bucks national trend

Public Health Sudbury says people at risk need to get tested to prevent spread
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Electron micrograph of Treponema pallidum on cultures of cotton-tail rabbit epithelium cells (Sf1Ep). Treponema pallidum is the causative agent of syphilis. (Public domain)

A recent report on the rise of sexually transmitted infections in Canada speculated that increased use of dating apps is one of the reasons why infections are rising.

"In general, all the sexually transmitted infections have been increasing in the last 20 years," said Dr. Jason Wong, a physician epidemiologist at the BC Centre for Disease Control, who tracks cases of sexually transmitted infections, or STIs.

The growth of dating apps is one suspected culprit, though no studies have been conducted to prove a link between online hookups and the spread of STIs, said Wong.

"But logically, it's easier to find sex and easier to find anonymous sex than it was before, which makes it harder for public health to track outbreaks when you don't know who's the contact for people that may have been exposed," he said.

"The technology certainly serves to be a quicker interface to connecting with sexual partners."

In Sudbury, Renée Lefebvre, public health nurse with Public Health Sudbury, said STIs are increasing in the city, but it's too soon to say that its a definite trend.

"In 2016, we had 690 reported cases of chlamydia, and in 2017, we had 770 reported cases, so there is a bit of a shift there," Lefebvre said. "But looking at the first three months of 2018, we have 184 cases. Compared to (the same time in 2017), we had 207.

The number of cases of gonorrhea have also increased in Sudbury, up to 59 reported cases in 2017, compared to 50 in 2016. But statistically, she said the fluctuations don't yet point to a trend.

"So we haven't seen a huge increase, and it's not consistent. It fluctuates in Sudbury."

Nationally, statistics confirm bacterial STIs are on an upward trajectory in jurisdictions across the country. Alberta, for example, recorded 4,763 cases of gonorrhea in 2017, up from about 3,700 the previous year.

In 2015, the latest year for which national figures are available, there were almost 116,500 cases of chlamydia, the most commonly reported STI in Canada, with females accounting for two-thirds of infections, says the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). 

Between 2010 and 2015, chlamydia rates increased by almost 17 per cent.

Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported STI in the country. About 19,845 cases were recorded in 2015, a jump of more than 65 per cent from 2010. Males had higher rates than females, with the highest number of cases among those aged 15 to 29, PHAC says.

From 2010 to 2015, the rate of infectious syphilis in Canada increased by almost 86 per cent. In 2015, a total of 3,321 cases were reported, with nearly 94 per cent occurring among males; those aged 20 to 39 had the highest rates and men who have sex with men were among those at most risk.

Lefebvre said syphilis cases have increased slightly in Sudbury, but like the other STIs, its not enough to signal a trend. She's not convinced the increase is due to social media.

"Is it because of dating apps, as that report said? I don't know,” Lefebvre said. “Nobody really knows right now, because we don't have any research data supporting that. But you can assume, obviously, people are not getting tested as frequently as they should be. 

"So instead of catching it early and treating it, they may go a couple more months spreading it."

She encourages anyone who is sexually active to get tested on a regular basis. People who have sex frequently with different partners should have themselves checked regularly, while people who are in monogamous relationships should be tested whenever they start a new relationship.

"The fact is we know there are STIs in our community and you should be practising safe sex, taking the time to mitigate your risks," Lefebvre said. "You have to determine what your risks are, and then how often you should get tested."

The highest-risk group tends to be people between ages 15-24, she said – often university or college students. 

Any clinic will do an STI test. Public Health has drop-in days Monday and Friday, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., and Wednesdays, 1-3:30 p.m., where you can show up without an appointment and be tested. You can also make an appointment on the other days.

"If there's one thing we can't stress enough, it's know your risks and protect yourself. Use a condom."

– Files from Canadian Press



Darren MacDonald

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