EDMONTON -- Increased testing is being made available to pregnant women in the province due to a continued outbreak of sexually transmitted disease. Deputy child medical health officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, says there's concern that syphilis and gonorrhea rates continue to be high in the province.
A total of six cases of congenital syphilis, the infection passed to newborns, have been reported in the province so far this year. Three of the cases have been confirmed with laboratory tests and three cases are probable, where the mothers and babies were treated for syphilis even though infection in the babies could not be confirmed in testing.
According to Hinsahw, the province is trying to raise awareness about the importance of safe sex and regular testing.
To that end, Alberta Health and AHS noted in a news release on Tuesday that additional actions are being implemented, some of which are already in place:
Alberta Health is updating the Alberta Prenatal Screening Guidelines to recommend chlamydia and gonorrhea testing for all pregnant women in the first trimester, then repeat testing in the third trimester for those at high risk of STIs. All pregnant mothers are already tested for syphilis early in pregnancy and again before delivery.
As of October 2017, AHS has expanded the type of STI testing available through its Test & Treat program, to include testing of the throat and rectum. Sexually transmitted infections can infect the throat and rectum and may require different treatment than infections in other sites in the body.
In February 2018, Alberta Health will begin covering the cost for Human Papillomavirus immunization (HPV9) for men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women aged 17 to 26. People within the MSM population may have disproportionately high rates of complications from HPV infection compared to the general population. For example, they are about 20 times more likely than heterosexual men to develop anal cancer. The primary goal of the HPV immunization program is to prevent cancer.
Alberta Health is providing $18.5 million over three years (2017-2020) to the Alberta Community Council on HIV, a non-profit group representing community organizations that support vulnerable populations, including those with STIs. The council, in turn, provides funding to community-based organizations for health-promotion activities, targeted communications to youth and increased equitable access to culturally relevant services.
Alberta Health provided grants to two organizations over three years (2016-2018) to support innovative approaches aimed at decreasing STI rates and reducing stigma. AHS is working with a broad range of community stakeholders to develop an operational strategy and action plan.
The facts are:
In April 2016, the Chief Medical Officer of Health announced that STI rates were rising in Alberta, with gonorrhea and infectious syphilis at outbreak levels.
In 2016, there were more than 3,700 cases of gonorrhea reported in Alberta, doubling the number of cases reported in 2014.
In 2016, there were more than 400 cases of infectious syphilis reported in Alberta, 2.5 times more cases than in 2014.
In 2016, the proportion of female infectious syphilis cases increased to 13 per cent, from five per cent in 2015.
In 2017, based on the year-to-date numbers for infectious syphilis and gonorrhea, Alberta is projected to surpass last year’s numbers.
Gonorrhea -- 3,707 cases in 2016. 3,869 cases to October 31, 2017
Infectious syphilis -- 41- cases in 2016. 369 cases to October 31, 2017
Chlamydia -- 16,357 cases in 2016. 13,959 cases to October 31, 2017
HIV -- 282 case in 2016. 212 casees to Octobe 31, 2017
To be tested for STIs, visit your family doctor, a walk-in clinic or www.sexgerms.com for more clinic locations.
For more information, call Health Link at 811, or the STI/HIV Information Line at 1-800-772-2437.
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