At 1,500, the number of syphilis cases in Alberta is now 10 times higher than it was in 2014. Gonorrhea cases have more than doubled in that time, to 5,000 cases.
AHS said 60 per cent of the STI cases are in Edmonton, but added they are on the rise across Alberta. AHS recently sent a letter to all family doctors, urging them to talk to their patients about the importance of STI testing.
“So it doesn’t become something that’s difficult for the patient to necessarily bring up themselves,” said Dr. David Strong with the AHS communicable disease program.
“A big part of what we’re trying to do is start to reduce the stigma and normalize the idea.”
STIs don’t often have noticeable symptoms, Strong said, but if they’re not treated, they can be serious. Syphilis, for example, can attack the brain and cause blindness. It can also be passed along during birth. Since 2015, 25 babies have been born with syphilis contracted from their mothers, two of whom died.
“It can cause infection in any number of organ systems in the fetus and that can then lead to termination of the pregnancy,” Strong explained.
AHS is also hoping to get the message out through social media and online, with hopes of reaching a younger demographic. Strong said it’s not known why Alberta is seeing the spike.
“Maybe a change in the sense of risk, perhaps, or maybe a misunderstanding about the potential complications or consequences of having an STI,” he said.
Anyone with a new partner, or multiple partners, is encouraged to get tested.
The AHS website has a number of resources, including how and where to get tested and how to talk to your partner about getting testing.
With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News.