Unprotected encounters leading to spike in STIs: Chief medical officer

A recent study found that cases of syphilis and gonorrhea have seen significant spikes in infection across Alberta.

A recent study found that cases of syphilis and gonorrhea have seen significant spikes in infection across Alberta, prompting a media release warning about the increase from the province’s chief medical officer.

The infection rate for gonorrhea in 2015 increased 80 per cent from the year prior, and doubled for infectious syphilis over the same time period. The two STIs (sexually transmitted infections) saw the biggest surge in numbers.

The report is generated by reported infections, which means the actual numbers may be higher.

“New social media tools enable people to communicate quickly to arrange anonymous sexual encounters, resulting in increased difficulty in tracking STIs,” Dr. Karen Grimsrud, chief medical officer of health for Alberta, said in a media release. “When people don’t know their sexual partners’ identities, it makes it difficult to contact partners for follow-up testing and treatment.”

According to Alberta health, the rates for syphilis have risen the most for same-sex encounters with men, while gonorrhea rates have increased the most in indigenous women.

Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman spoke briefly about the report findings while touring the Stettler hospital on Wednesday, April 27.

“Certainly, (the results are) not good news,” she said. “We want to make sure people are protecting themselves. (People) can take precautions and these STIs are treatable, but only if you go in, get tested, know that you have it and get treated.”

She noted that both syphilis and gonorrhea are curable, but only if treated. If left untreated, the diseases can have “very long-term damaging effects,” she noted.

STI facts

Gonorrhea

More than 3,400 cases reported in Alberta in 2015 (an 80 per cent increase from 2014).

This rate (82 cases/100,000 population) is the highest reported since the late 1980s.

The overall female rate in 2015 has increased 93 per cent from 2014.

The overall male rate increased by 66 per cent.

Nearly half of all cases among females reported Indigenous ethnicity.

The estimated rates among MSM are 11 times higher than the provincial rate for all males.

Syphilis

More than 350 cases of infectious syphilis in Alberta in 2015, doubling case counts from 2014 case counts, and surpassing recent historic highs last seen in 2009.

Majority of cases (86 per cent) were MSM. One-quarter of all cases were also infected with HIV.