News / Calgary

Sexually transmitted infection rates remain at outbreak levels in Alberta

There were more than 3,700 cases of gonorrhea reported in Alberta in 2016 but 3,869 have already been reported this year

Drug resistant gonorrhea culture are shown under a microscope lens in this image. The Alberta government said Tuesday gonorrhea and syphilis rates in the province remain at outbreak levels.

FILE / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Drug resistant gonorrhea culture are shown under a microscope lens in this image. The Alberta government said Tuesday gonorrhea and syphilis rates in the province remain at outbreak levels.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continue to rise in Alberta, with gonorrhea and infectious syphilis remaining at outbreak levels, the province said Tuesday.

There were more than 3,700 cases of gonorrhea reported in Alberta in 2016 – double the number of cases reported in 2014 – but there have already been 3,869 cases this year.

Alberta’s deputy chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, called the situation “a serious public health issue” that affects all demographics.

“We are very concerned that syphilis and gonorrhea rates continue to be high in Alberta,” Hinshaw told reporters. “STIs are a risk to anyone who is sexually active – particularly those who have new partners and are not using protection. And if left untreated, they can have lasting effects on a person’s physical and emotional health, including their fertility.”

According to Alberta Health, six cases of congenital syphilis have been reported in Alberta in 2017 so far (cumulative until Oct. 31).

“This is when a pregnant woman passes on syphilis infection to her unborn child,” Hinshaw explained. “Before these cases, the most recent report of this in Alberta was a single probable case in December 2015 and the last time a confirmed case was reported in Alberta was 2011.”

She said three of the cases in 2017 have been lab-confirmed and three cases are considered ‘probable;’ the mothers and babies were both treated for syphilis even though an infection in the babies could not be confirmed with laboratory tests.

“Obviously we're very concerned about these cases, as well as the ongoing high rates of STIs that continue in our province,” Hinshaw said. “There’s no group in the population who’s immune from this.”

Alberta Health Services (AHS) recently created a dedicated provincial prenatal syphilis nurse position to help prevent additional cases, according to AHS’ senior medical officer of health, Dr. Gerry Predy.

“One nurse will specifically work with physicians and other professionals community groups to identify women at risk for getting syphilis,” Predy explained. “(This will) ensure our staff can be proactive in trying to reach out to them, to try and get them tested and treated as soon as possible.”

Alberta’s prenatal screening guidelines are being updated to recommend chlamydia and gonorrhea testing for all pregnant women in the first trimester and repeat testing in the third trimester for those at high risk of getting STIs, according to Hinshaw.

Currently, pregnant women are tested for syphilis early in pregnancy and again before delivery.

Hinshaw urged Albertans to get tested for STIs early and often, especially when with a new partner.

“We want to encourage Albertans to always practice safe sex and to get regular STI testing so they can remain healthy,” she said. “Both STI tests and treatment are free of charge for Albertans.”

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