Watch above: while HIV and hepatitis C rates may be declining, health officials still concerned over high STI rates
SASKATOON- It appears Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) is gaining ground on HIV and hepatitis C but can’t say the same for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
On Monday, the region released its fourth Better Health for All online report with officials saying they are concerned about some of the data.
“Even though our rates are still higher than the national average we have seen a declining trend for the last five years and that is good news because it means our strategies for reduction of these blood-borne infections seem to be having an impact,”said Julie Kryzanowski, deputy medical health officer with SHR.
Since 2004, hepatitis C rates in the region have been on the decline but are still 50 per cent higher than the national rate from two years ago and HIV rates are twice the national average.
“For HIV and hepatitis C, in particular, we know that injection drug use is one of the biggest risk factors still leading to high rates of infection and injection drug use is often linked to poverty as well,” said Kryzanowski.
Other concerning trends that have emerged are the high rates of co-infection.
Two thirds of those infected with HIV are also infected with hepatitis C and one quarter of those infected with gonorrhea have a second STI.
“With our sexually transmitted infections, the risk is greater in younger age groups, so teenage and early twenty years and people who are having sex with multiple partners and people who are having unprotected sex are the biggest risk factors there,” added Kryzanowski.
Rates of chlamydia have stabilized in the region since 2010 but perhaps one of the most alarming stats released in Monday’s report is the rate of chlamydia among 10- to 14-year-old females, which has increased 45 per cent since 2009.
“Part of it is linked to earlier sexual experiences in this age group, it’s also concerning that in young age groups there is there risk of abuse, sexual abuse.”
Kryzanowski adds that if the region does see infections in young girls below the age of consent in the province, authorities are notified so that they can investigate if there is a concern of sexual abuse.
Gonorrhea and syphilis have also sharply increased since 2011.
Health officials say while the region doesn’t collect a wide-demographic profile of people being treated for STIs, their age and gender is known.
For some infections like syphilis, a spike in this STI is among the population of men who have sex with other men.
Officials attribute online dating website and apps as a reason for this increase in syphilis.
In an effort to reduce these numbers, the health region says it will begin to focus on increasing the availability and accessibility of testing services like offering screenings for STIs without appointments.