Growing STI rates call for renewed concerns in Canada
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TORONTO — With Charlie Sheen’s recent revelation that he has HIV, there is a renewed focus on the dangers of all sexually transmitted infections.
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released a report showing that there were nearly 20 million people with STIs in the U.S. in 2014, with an estimated cost to the healthcare system approaching US $16 billion.
What’s worse is that chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are each increasing in frequency in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the Public Health Agency of Canada has reported similar trends in this country.
Between 2001 and 2010, gonorrhea rates were up 53.5 per cent and syphilis rates more than quadrupled (up by 456.7 per cent).
Rates of chlamydia, which is by far the most common sexually transmitted infection, have increased every year since 1997.
Two-thirds of all chlamydia and gonorrhea cases were in people aged between 15 and 24, while 90 per cent of syphilis cases were seen in men.
The concern with chlamydia in particular is that things might be a lot worse than we know.
There are over 100,000 cases of chlamydia reported in this country each year, but this might only be the tip of the iceberg, because up to 70 per cent of women and 50 per cent of men have no symptoms of chlamydia after infection.
Accordingly, they continue to spread the disease and would have no way of knowing that they have it unless they get screened.
Both chlamydia and gonorrhea can be treated with antibiotics, but we are seeing more and more cases of antibiotic resistant gonorrhea in Canada.
One of the major consequences of leaving either of these bacteria untreated in women, is that they can find their way into the upper reproductive system and cause permanent damage (called “pelvic inflammatory disease”), which can result in chronic pain, pregnancy complications and infertility.
Overall, about 20,000 women become infertile due to these infections each year in the US.
So why are these infections coming back?
It partly has to do with the fact that we have better lab tests to detect these bacteria, but partly also because younger people seem to be less aware of these risks and less likely to use protection.
In fact, research shows that people often stop using condoms when they start using the birth control pill, which would indicate that they’re not thinking about the risk of sexually transmitted infections.
How can you protect yourself? The best protection is a condom.
Condoms are close to 100 per cent effective at preventing transmission of these infections.
But the other important part of the equation is talking to your doctor, to make sure that you do get properly screened if you’re at risk, both for your sake and for the sake of your partner.
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