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New project brings HIV, hep C and syphilis testing to pharmacies in N.S.

Click to play video: 'New initiative making STI more accessible in Atlantic Canada'
New initiative making STI more accessible in Atlantic Canada
WATCH: A new initiative is making STI testing more accessible. Tests for HIV -- Hepatitis C --- and Syphilis -- can now be done at some pharmacies across Atlantic Canada. The new program launched today to coincide with World AIDS Day. Alicia Draus has the details – Dec 1, 2022

This year Nova Scotia is reporting an increase in the number of people diagnosed with HIV. The Public Health Department says it typically expects to record about 15 to 20 new cases of HIV every year.

This year, however, the department had already recorded 20 to 25 new cases by the end of August.

An infectious diseases pharmacist says there’s no clear answer as to why there’s a rise in Nova Scotia, but says it could be a result of a lack of testing over the past few years.

Read more: Halifax region records increase in number of people diagnosed with HIV, Public Health says

Read next: WHO to decide if COVID remains an emergency. What will this mean for Canada?

“We know that during the pandemic, unfortunately, we were testing for COVID, of course, and the lab was really busy with that, so at times they had to shut down testing for other things.”

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Now there’s a new project aimed at making testing for sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections easier. The Approach Study is rolling out testing for HIV, hepatitis C and syphilis at select pharmacies in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

“We know that in Nova Scotia it can be really tricky to get in for testing, so this may be a really nice alternative for patients,” said Ramsey.

Boyd Pharmacy in Halifax’s north end is one of 10 participating pharmacies in the province. Owner Greg Richard says they’ll be offering tests by appointment.

Click to play video: 'Marking World AIDS Day'
Marking World AIDS Day

“It’s very easy, we go through risk factors, provide patients with resources and linkages to care if they need it,” said Richard.

“A lot of folks don’t realize that they may have been exposed or recently infected so increasing the likelihood of us discovering infections and helping connect them with health-care professionals is key to their health.”

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It’s estimated that about 10 per cent of people with HIV don’t know they have it. Meanwhile, 40 per cent of those with hep C are unaware.

“If you don’t know you have the infections you can be spreading the virus, and you’re also not getting treatment yourself,” said Ramsey.

Both hepatitis C and syphilis are curable. While there is no cure for HIV, treatments allow individuals to live a healthy life and lower or eliminate the risk to spreading the infection to their partner. Left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS.

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