Rates of sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in B.C., with public health experts pointing to fewer people using condoms as the cause.
Dr. Jason Wong, a physician epidemiologist at the BC Centre for Disease Control, said rates of bacterial STIs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, have been climbing for two decades both within the province and across the country.
B.C. recorded 15,700 cases of chlamydia, 3,300 cases of gonorrhea and 683 cases of syphilis last year.
Canada recorded 116,500 cases of chlamydia – the most commonly reported STI in the country – in 2015, the latest year in which data were available, along with 19,845 cases of gonorrhea and about 3,300 cases of syphilis, which has seen the biggest jump since 2010 at 86 per cent.
Rates of HIV, meanwhile, have been been in decline. “In B.C., there were 190 HIV cases in 2017,” Wong said. That’s compared to 254 reported cases in 2016.
Why sexually transmitted infections are still plaguing so many Canadians is “definitely the million-dollar question.”
The most probable reason, Wong said, is because of improvements in treatment and care for people with HIV.
“People have become less and less concerned with contracting HIV, and so what this potentially may lead to is reductions in condom use.”
Some researchers have suggested dating apps such as Tinder or Grindr could play a role in the uptick in STIs, because of more sexual interactions altogether.
Wong shot down that theory: “The technology has just changed the way people have tried to find partners, but I think if we compare this to going to the bar or the club, or meeting through friends, I don’t think it’s fundamentally any different – just a different interface.”
Other factors contributing to the increase can actually be positive, such as advancements in detection methods – often a partial cause in long-term trends for diseases and infections.
STI screenings have become less invasive and more sensitive, Wong said, allowing for an earlier confirmation for infections that have otherwise no symptoms.
“For women now, urine tests are equivalent to a cervical swab,” he said, adding detection has gotten better specifically for gonorrhea and chlamydia.
While bacterial STIs can be cured with antibiotics, infections can turn serious when untreated, including damage to the brain and cardiovascular system, as well as impact on fertility in woman. In some cases, it can be fatal.
Wong said condoms are one of the simplest and most widely encouraged measures to protect yourself, as well as undergoing regular screenings to ensure quick treatment.
“Ensuring your health is at its best and you’re not likely to transmit to other people is also an important strategy.”