A current trend is sweeping the continent – but it’s likely not one you want to catch. It’s chlamydia, and the rates of detection in North America show no slow in the spread of the sexually transmitted infection.
Earlier this month, the Maritimes and Alberta reported cases of syphilis were on the rise, but that’s not the trend locally. New cases of syphilis have remained low on the South Island, while diagnoses of chlamydia – North America’s most prevalent infection – continue to rise each year.
Last year, 1,130 cases of chlamydia were reported, compared to 560 in 2000. By contrast, the region’s second most common sexually transmitted infection, gonorrhea, saw just 90 new diagnoses in 2010. Just six cases of syphilis were reported on the South Island last year, a number so low health officials can’t draw any long-term conclusions, according Vancouver Island Health Authority’s medical health officer.
Dr. Murray Fyfe lists increased detection of the asymptomatic chlamydia – which can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and affect fertility in women – and a decrease in condom usage as possible explanations for the spread.
“There’s good data to show that the teen birth rate is falling in Victoria and throughout B.C., so we’re seeing a fall-off in the number of teenaged pregnancies and births,” Fyfe said. “That may be to do with (greater) oral contraceptive use [birth control pills], but we’re seeing this concurrent increase in sexually transmitted infections, primarily chlamydia, to suggest that there’s not enough barrier protection being used.”
While birth control methods lower the chance of pregnancy, only barrier methods like condoms offer protection against sexually transmitted infections.
Rates of human immunodeficiency virus, however, have fallen in the last several years, with 21 new diagnoses reported last year, compared to 46 in 2004.
Groups at highest risk for contracting HIV are homosexual men, heterosexuals who have multiple sex partners and injection drug users. Of the three higher risk groups, the latter has seen a decrease in infection rates, likely due to a downward trend in needle-sharing and increased use of inhalation drugs, Fyfe said.
Stay educated on STIs
The Island Sexual Health Society and the Vancouver Island Health Authority offer clinics specializing in sexual health education, and STI prevention and treatment.
The society logs some 18,000 visits each year for their clinical and educational services. The former includes automatic testing for chlamydia during Pap smear exams, and last year the society gave 359 presentations to Greater Victoria schools, reaching well over 10,000 youth.
The most common age group to access the services are those in their early twenties, said executive director Bobbi Turner, yet people accessing services can range from 13 to 80 years old.
“That’s one of the reasons why so many people come to us: they feel this is a safe and confidential place,” Turner said. “They get the services they need and the help and the support. It’s not just about the testing, it’s making sure that our clients have the education; that they know how to protect themselves.”
Vancouver Island Health Authority’s STI clinic offers similar services, including anonymous HIV testing and counselling – an integral step in the screening and diagnostic process.
“Early diagnosis and treatment also can make a difference in the transmission of sexually-transmitted diseases,” said Vancouver Island Medical Health Officer Murray Fyfe.
Did you know?
The term STI (sexually transmitted infection) is now commonly used in the place of the term STD (sexually transmitted disease). According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, STI is more encompassing, and includes infections (such as chlamydia) that are asymptomatic.