The spread of sexually transmitted diseases is getting worse

Sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBIs) are spreading aggressively in Canada as testing and prevention have been abandoned during the pandemic.

Cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia, but also syphilis and HIV, are on the rise compared to last year.

In New Brunswick, cases of gonorrhea almost quintupled between 2020 and 2021, according to the Globe and Mail, then tripled in the first months of this year compared to last year.

In order to raise awareness among young people, public health officials have turned to TikTok, Instagram and Tinder to make a broad prevention campaign. Launched last month, the campaign targeted sexually active people between the ages of 20 and 39 in Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John, where an outbreak of gonorrhea that took hold in 2019 among this cohort intensified throughout the pandemic.

“Whether it’s a sexual health issue or any other health issue, there are a lot of things that have been really overshadowed by COVID-19,” said Jennifer Russell, Chief Medical Officer of Health. of New Brunswick. This is the right time to address them.”

Syphilis outbreaks have been seen across much of the country, including Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Ontario, which recorded 2,678 cases last year, the number the highest in at least a decade. Gay and bisexual men are the populations most affected by syphilis, with several provinces reporting a majority of cases among 30-39 year olds.

Saskatchewan saw a 29% increase in HIV cases last year compared to 2020, an influence that “in part reflects the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on risk factors for disease transmission and access to testing and care,” according to a statement emailed to The Globe and News by the province’s Department of Health.

Experts fear the latest numbers are understated, given that the pandemic has limited testing, regular medical care, public health tracking and data capture. Lab capacity was often overwhelmed with PCR testing, and many of those working in sexual health were redeployed to help with COVID-19. According to a national report from the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 45% of service providers who test for STBBIs have described significant decreases in their ability to do so during the pandemic, with 31% having completely stopped testing at times of crisis.

During the pandemic, some people who chose to have fewer sexual partners or just one partner assumed they were safe and stopped using condoms, explained Alex McKay, executive director of the Information Council and Sex Education Canada, a non-profit organization that focuses on sexual and reproductive health. This amounted to a false sense of security: “It’s riskier to have unprotected sex with one partner who has an STI than to have multiple partners who may have an STI, if you use condoms.”

Another factor in the increase in STIs may be Canadians’ reluctance to seek help: among health care providers who focus on sexual health, 66% reported a drop in demand in the first pandemic month. Some people have felt a kind of double stigma admitting to their primary care providers that they were having unprotected sex and contracting STBBIs during the lockdowns.

“It’s a positive and enjoyable part of our lives,” Dr. McKay said, “and we need to take care of it.”

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