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Sexually transmitted infections have reached outbreak levels in Alberta

The rates of gonorrhea and infectious syphilis have spiked dramatically in the province over the past year, and the Alberta government is taking action to raise awareness.

Cases of gonorrhea in 2015 are up 80 per cent from 2014.

Cases of infectious syphilis in 2015 doubled from 2014.

“New social media tools enable people to communicate quickly to arrange anonymous sexual encounters, resulting in increased difficulty in tracking STIs. When people don’t know their sexual partners’ identities, it makes it difficult to contact partners for follow-up testing and treatment.”

Dr. Karen Grimsrud, Chief Medical Officer of Health

Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services (AHS) are working together to raise awareness of the outbreak, the risks of anonymous sexual encounters, the importance of testing, and safe sex practices.

“AHS has and will continue to step up its awareness and outreach efforts to ensure the public, especially at-risk groups, know the risks, know how to protect themselves and know the importance of getting tested for STIs. The effects of untreated STIs can extend to other sexual partners or babies of infected pregnant women. Although many STIs can be treated and cured, if left untreated they can result in serious health impacts and long-term implications.”

Dr. Gerry Predy, AHS Medical Officer of Health

Syphilis rates have risen most notably in MSM (men who have sex with men) and gonorrhea rates have increased in young Indigenous females.

AHS has expanded STI clinic hours in Edmonton and Calgary, increased outreach testing in Edmonton in collaboration with agencies serving Indigenous and MSM populations, and reached out to physicians to increase STI testing for clients that are sexually active.

AHS will continue to promote www.sexgerms.com and its social media campaign to raise awareness and encourage STI testing.

Social media tools have been identified as key drivers in the increasing rates of gonorrhea and infectious syphilis.

STIs in Alberta

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.

STIs are a significant health issue for Albertans, resulting in health, social, emotional, and economic costs. Some of these issues can be long-term.


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