Infectious syphilis and gonorrhea on the rise in Alberta

by Morinville News Staff

In the face of what the government calls continued outbreak levels of infectious syphilis and gonorrhea, Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services (AHS) are working together to raise awareness about the importance of safe-sex practices and regular STI testing. That awareness includes continued universal syphilis screening for all pregnant women.

The province cites six cases of congenital syphilis that have been reported in Alberta in 2017, three of which have been confirmed with laboratory tests, and three that are probable, where the mothers and babies were treated for syphilis even though infection in the babies could not be confirmed with laboratory tests.

There were more than 3,700 cases of gonorrhea reported in Alberta in 2016, doubling the number of cases reported in 2014.

In 2016, there were more than 400 cases of infectious syphilis reported in Alberta, 2.5 times more cases than in 2014.

In 2016, the proportion of female infectious syphilis cases increased to 13 per cent, from five per cent in 2015.

Year-to-date numbers for infectious syphilis and gonorrhea for 2017 indicate Alberta is projected to surpass last year’s numbers.

“We are very concerned that syphilis and gonorrhea rates continue to be high in Alberta,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, deputy chief medical officer of health, Alberta Health, said in a media release Tuesday. “We are hard at work helping people living with or at risk of contracting an STI. We also want to remind Albertans to protect themselves and know how to get free STI testing and treatment.”

AHS has a dedicated provincial prenatal syphilis nurse who directly coordinates care and ensures follow up of all prenatal clients with infectious syphilis, as well as infants born to these clients.

Alberta Health and AHS are also implementing a series of additional actions, including updating the Alberta Prenatal Screening Guidelines to recommend chlamydia and gonorrhea testing for all pregnant women in the first trimester. Testing would be repeated in the third trimester for those at high risk of STIs. All pregnant mothers are already tested for syphilis early in pregnancy and again before delivery.

AHS has also expanded, as of this past October, the type of STI testing available through its Test & Treat program to include testing of the throat and rectum. Sexually transmitted infections can infect the throat and rectum and may require different treatment than infections in other sites in the body.

Alberta Health will begin covering the cost for Human Papillomavirus immunization (HPV9) for men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women aged 17 to 26 starting in February of 2018.

The province says people within the MSM population may have disproportionately high rates of complications from HPV infection compared to the general population and are about 20 times more likely than heterosexual men to develop anal cancer. The primary goal of the HPV immunization program is to prevent cancer.

Alberta Health is also providing $18.5 million from 2017 to 2020 to the non-profit group Alberta Community Council on HIV who will provide funding to community-based organizations for health-promotion activities, targeted communications to youth and increased equitable access to culturally relevant services.

The government says Calgary Sexual Health Centre is receiving $600,000 to support more comprehensive and non-stigmatizing sexual health education for junior high and high school students. Additionally, Boyle Street Community Services is receiving $400,000 to support an STI Harm Reduction outreach team to raise STI awareness, reduce stigma and facilitate testing and treatment. The project will have a particular focus on Indigenous women and will be facilitated through the Streetworks program.

For more information, call Health Link at 811, or the STI/HIV Information Line at 1-800-772-2437.

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