Thursday, 30 November 2017 11:11

Safe-sex education/STI screening a focus for AHS as case totals rise

Written by  Demi Knight
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With statistics on the rise and the province reaching outbreak levels in several areas of sexually transmitted infections (STI), Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services (AHS) are working together to raise awareness on STI testing and safe-sex practices to try and steady these rising numbers.

With a specific focus on educating the public of how to prevent the spread of such infections, several methods have been put into action this year to try to better control the continued outbreak, which has seen alarmingly increasing numbers in both syphilis and gonorrhea infections throughout the province.
“The ongoing collaboration between Alberta Health Services, the Government of Alberta and community stakeholders has been and will continue to be central to our management of this outbreak,” says senior medical officer of health with AHS, Dr. Gerry Predy.
“We are working together, and we will not tire in our efforts.”
With growing concerns over the count of new STI cases province wide, the government, Alberta Health and AHS have put into place new processes to try and control the growing problem. By updating the Alberta Prenatal Screening Guidelines to recommend all pregnant women be screened for both chlamydia and gonorrhea in the first trimester, as well as added expansions to the Treat & Test program currently in place, those additions being of throat and rectum STI testing to better identify and treat specifically contracted types of STI’s that are contributing to the increasing numbers across Alberta.
There are also several plans in the works for the upcoming years to stop the spread of infectious STI’s including covering the cost of Human Papillomavirus Immunization for the men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender population aged seventeen to twenty-six, which will become active in February 2018.
However, the most concerning problem for the province to date is the number of infectious syphilis and gonorrhea cases seen in the province over the last few years, which professionals say are reaching outbreak levels.
“We are very concerned that syphilis and gonorrhea rates continue to be high in Alberta,” says Dr. Deena Hinshaw, deputy chief medical officer of health with Alberta Health.“We are hard at work helping people living with, or at risk of, contracting an STI. We also want to remind Albertans to protect themselves and know how to get free STI testing and treatment.”
With Alberta seeing a rise in new gonorrhea cases from 3,707 in 2016 to 3,869 new cases as of Oct. 31 of 2017, rates are already higher than last year, with several months on the calendar still to go. The province is also expected to see a higher number in new cases of infectious syphilis this year than last with already 369 cases confirmed by Oct. 31, only 41 cases less than 2016 saw as a whole.
However, it’s not just the more densely populated areas that will be seeing more education and awareness brought about regarding safe-sex, but the rural divisions of the province too.
“We offer the same STI services and outreach test and treat, throughout all Zones of AHS both rural and urban,” says Manager of Communications with Alberta Health Services, Shannon Evans.
“Physicians are also sure to treat all clients the same, be they in rural or urban.  In other words, we don't see a distinction in services for rural vs. urban clients.”
With the south zone seeing eighty-four new cases alone of gonorrhea, and four new cases of infectious syphilis in the year of 2016, all regions of southern Alberta from rural to urban will too be seeing a benefit and increase in safe-sex awareness in the coming months to help lower the zone and provincial numbers of STI cases in the years to come.

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