To be tested or not to be tested

STI infections continue to rise after a warning from AHS about a potential 'outbreak' in 2016. (Photo by Katerina Masyk/SAIT)

STI infections continue to rise after a warning from AHS about a potential ‘outbreak’ in 2016. (Photo by Katerina Masyk/SAIT)

Alberta is continuing to see a rise in the number of people infected with sexually transmitted infections (STI’s).

“They’re very common, and people often don’t have symptoms,” said Doctor Kelli Thomas of SAIT’s health clinic.

The province is seeing the highest number of reported STI’s since the 1980s.

Thomas said that the province had the highest number of reported STI’s in comparison to the rest of the country.

“We’re seeing a select number of students who are motivated to get tested, and who are going that extra mile to find out if they have STI’s.

“There’s probably a lot of students walking around without even considering that they could be carrying it [an STI],” said Thomas.

In 2016, Alberta Health Services warned that the rate of STI’s in the province had reached “outbreak levels.”

Doctor Judy MacDonald said that the province has had and continues to have a high rate of reported STI’s and that there continues to be 1000s of cases in Alberta.

MacDonald said that common STI’s include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes and HPV.

“There is a lot of STI’s, it’s not unique to Alberta or Calgary. When you look across the country, STI’s are quite common,” said MacDonald.

Based on numbers provided by an Alberta Government health survey, reported cases of gonorrhea rose by more than 300 in comparison to 2015, with 3,707 reported cases in 2016.

There were 16,357 reported cases of chlamydia in 2016, down from 17,267 in 2015.

There were a reported 410 cases of infectious syphilis in Alberta in 2016, 60 more cases than 2015.

The SAIT health clinic has seen the number of diagnosed STI’s remain the same, said Thomas, who has worked at the clinic for three and a half years.

MacDonald said that there are high rates of certain STI’s in the province, but that the overall cases of STI’s will potentially see a decrease in reported cases in 2017.

“Any of those STI’s can be quite common in college-age people. It really depends on when people are engaging in sexual activity, that’s the main risk factor,” said MacDonald.

STI’s are transmitted by sexual activities including genital, anal and oral sex, where people exchange or are exposed to secretions from their partner.

The infections were originally referred to as sexually transmitted diseases, but this misnomer was changed to reflect the fact that people can have infections and display no symptoms, said MacDonald.

“It’s important for people to get tested. STI’s are infectious. If you get an infection, you may not be aware of it; you can spread this onto somebody else,” said MacDonald.

“It’s that broader sharing of germs that really fuels our STI rates within the province,” said MacDonald.

MacDonald said that it’s important to get tested in order to avoid health complications that are associated with infections.

Safety steps can be taken when becoming sexually active including getting vaccinated for diseases such as Hepatitis B and HPV, and using condoms and/or dental dams to reduce and protect against STI exposure, said MacDonald.

“If you are thinking about becoming sexually active, then you need to equip yourself with a way to prevent getting infected,” said MacDonald.

There are a number of places in the city to get tested for STI’s including the Calgary STI Clinic and Reproductive Health Clinical Services at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre, with family physicians, sexual health programs and in urgent care centres.

In 2015, AHS expanded the hours of operation of the STI clinics in Edmonton and Calgary in an effort to encourage STI testing.

The Campus Health Clinic sees a high volume of screening for STI’s.

Students can book an appointment at the health centre for a free, confidential and non-judgmental STI test, said Thomas.

AHS and Alberta Health have partnered to use social media and the site in an effort to encourage and promote the importance of STI testing and to promote safe-sex awareness.

The tests used for STI’s can range from urine and blood tests, to swabs, and one is encouraged to ask questions when these tests are done, said MacDonald.

“[It’s important] to get tested even if you don’t have any symptoms. You can be asymptomatic but still infectious, and this leads to diseases, or these infections being easily transmitted from one person to another.”


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