Al­berta to ex­pand STI tests in face of out­break lev­els

Boyle Street out­reach team gets $400K from prov­ince

StarMetro Edmonton - - News - omar mosleh

On­line hookup sites and anony­mous sex­ual part­ners are con­tribut­ing to con­tin­ued out­break lev­els of sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions in Al­berta, health of­fi­cials say.

As a re­sult of con­tin­ued high lev­els of in­fec­tious syphilis and gon­or­rhea first re­ported in April 2016, Al­berta Health and Al­berta Health Ser­vices are try­ing to raise aware­ness about the im­por­tance of safe sex and reg­u­lar test­ing through their web­site www.sexgerms.com.

The prov­ince is ex­pand­ing the types of STI test­ing avail­able through its Test & Treat pro­gram and is also rec­om­mend­ing fur­ther test­ing for preg­nant women.

That in­cludes con­tin­ued uni­ver­sal syphilis screen­ing for all preg­nant women and in­creas­ing tests avail­able to preg­nant women.

“We are up­dat­ing our pro­vin­cial pre­na­tal screen­ing guide­lines so that all preg­nant women are tested in their first trimester for chlamy­dia and gon­or­rhea as they al­ready are for syphilis,” said Dr. Deena Hin­shaw, deputy child med­i­cal health of­fi­cer.

“We are rec­om­mend­ing doc­tors also do re­peat tests in the third trimester for women who are at high risks of con­tract­ing STIs.”

Fur­ther­more, the Test & Treat pro­gram is ex­pand­ing to in­clude test­ing of the throat and rec­tum, which may re­quire dif­fer­ent treat­ments com­pared to in­fec­tions in other parts of the body.

Al­berta Health is pro­vid­ing $400,000 to Ed­mon­tons’s Boyle Street Com­mu­nity Ser­vices to sup­port an STI Harm Re­duc­tion out­reach team to raise STI aware­ness, re­duce stigma and fa­cil­i­tate fur­ther test­ing and treat­ment. The pro­gram will have a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on In­dige­nous women.

That’s good news to Laura Kee­gan, di­rec­tor of pub­lic en­gage­ment at HIV Ed­mon­ton.

“An in­crease in sex­ual health test­ing es­pe­cially is in­cred­i­bly valu­able for us be­cause there’s a big gap when we talk about peo­ple know­ing their sta­tus with HIV,” Kee­gan said. “There’s so few sites and such long wait times at the STI clinic. So any time we add ser­vices that al­low sex­ual health in­for­ma­tion to be more ac­ces­si­ble … I think is a great thing.

“Any time there’s an in­creased di­a­logue around sex­ual health in a pos­i­tive way, that’s go­ing to be ben­e­fi­cial for ev­ery­body,” she added.

Ac­cord­ing to Al­berta’s se­nior med­i­cal health of­fi­cer, Dr. Gerry Predy, on­line sites such as Tin­der, Pure and Grindr are have added to the prob­lem, as well as peo­ple fail­ing to prac­tise safe sex.

“It’s eas­ier for peo­ple to hook up with each other. We know a lot of the sex is anony­mous. When we go to ask peo­ple who their con­tact was, quite of­ten they can’t tell us,” Dr. Gerry Predy said Tues­day.

“That makes it more dif­fi­cult to fol­low up. There’s a lot of un­der­ly­ing so­cial changes that have led to this.”

Six cases of con­gen­i­tal syphilis, mean­ing the in­fec­tion has been passed to new­borns, have been re­ported in the prov­ince so far this year.

Al­berta Health says that as of Oct. 31, there had been 3,869 cases of gon­or­rhea, com­pared with just over 3,700 in all of 2016.

Hin­shaw said the high­est rate of sex­ual in­fec­tions is in 15- to 26-year-olds, but no group is im­mune if sex­u­ally ac­tive and not us­ing pro­tec­tion.

“There is no sin­gle, sim­ple rea­son for ris­ing in­fec­tion rates and no sin­gle, sim­ple so­lu­tion,” she said.

“We need to un­der­score the broad mes­sage for all Al­ber­tans, which is: STIs are a risk to any­one who is sex­u­ally ac­tive, par­tic­u­larly those who have new part­ners and are not us­ing pro­tec­tion.”

Kevin Tuong/For MeTro

Laura Kee­gan, di­rec­tor of pub­lic en­gage­ment at hiV ed­mon­ton.

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