Are STDs in Alberta on the rise?
Alberta Health Services has revealed that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have reached “outbreak levels” in the province, and officials say that social media is to blame.
A reported 3,400 cases of gonorrhea were identified in 2015, an 80 per cent rise from 2014, along with 350 cases of infectious syphilis, twice the number from the previous year, both being attributed to greater use of social media “hook-up” services such as Tinder and Grindr which allow for easy and relatively anonymous encounters between individuals.
“There are several factors but this is probably the single most or highest reason why we are getting the increased rates -the use of social media,” says Dr. Karen Grimsrud, chief medical officer of health with the province.
Most of the new infections occurred in young men and women, with almost half of the female cases of syphilis being found in indigenous women and the majority (86 per cent) of male cases of syphilis involving men who have sex with men.
Dr. Gerry Predy of Alberta Health Services plans to increase public awareness campaigns on STIs and the dangers of anonymous hook-ups and to continue encouraging STI testing and condom use. “STI rates in the province are the highest they have been in decades and show no signs of levelling off,” Predy said.
According to the CBC, other provinces including B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland have also seen new rises in syphilis and gonorrhea rates.
“When people don’t know their sexual partner’s identity, that makes it difficult for public health to do the tracing for them and their contact, as far as setting up testing and treatment,” says Grimsrud. STI testing in Alberta and other provinces is free and anonymous.
And while health officials state that most STIs can be treated and cured, reports show that drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea are spreading across the country. In Ontario, new treatment guidelines have been instituted to deal with the STI which now recommend that people testing positive for gonorrhea be treated with a combination of an injectable antibiotic as well as a second antibiotic in pill form. Dr. Vanessa Allen of the provincial public health agency states that the new procedure is necessary to try to slow gonorrhea’s progress through the whole gamut of available antibiotics.
“It’s really too bad that we can no longer use the pill (alone),” says Allen. “If we could, obviously we would want to offer that. … (But) we know it’s not as effective … and it may in fact be promoting resistance in these organisms in the community.”
The fight to keep diseases like gonorrhea under medicinal control is not faring well, however -this past December, the United Kingdom’s chief medical officer reported the presence of a new “untreatable” strain of gonorrhea, resistant to commonly administered antibiotics.
The connection between certain social media sites and risks of STI infection has been a worry for some time now. Last fall in the United States, the AIDS Health Foundation and Free STDCheck.org put up a billboard campaign in Los Angeles to alert people to the dangers of STIs within today’s hook-up culture. One of the billboards was placed close by Tinder’s headquarters on Beverly Boulevard.