By Dr. Colin Lee
Sexual health is an integral part of our overall health and well-being which can have an impact on an individual’s physical, mental and emotional state. In the past five years, there has been a steady increase in sexually transmitted infections (STIs), namely chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. These can be easily transmitted through unprotected intercourse and oral sex. Many individuals who have an STI do not know that they have one, as many have no symptoms at all and yet, they can still give it to their sex partners. This is why it is important to get tested and treated for STIs to prevent passing it on to others, and potential serious consequences such as pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.
The present STI situation in Simcoe Muskoka
STIs have been on the rise in Canada as well as within Simcoe Muskoka for more than 20 years. The most common STIs are chlamydia and gonorrhea which are both bacterial infections that can be treated easily with antibiotics. Here a few statistics worth sharing:
- Between 2000 and 2022, chlamydia cases have increased four-fold rising from 363 cases reported in 2000 to 1,117 cases reported in 2022. The highest infection rate is among 15 to 24-year-olds, with more cases occurring among females than males.
- Since 2017, cases of gonorrhea have almost tripled with 279 cases reported in 2022 compared to 101 cases reported in 2017. The highest rate is among 25 to 39-year-olds with a higher proportion of cases occurring among males compared to females.
- There has been a nine-fold increase in syphilis cases since 2017, when nine cases of the infection were reported in 2017 compared to 87 cases reported in 2022. Rates are highest among 25 to 39-year-olds and 15 to 24-year-olds.
- In the past six years, between three and 15 new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have been reported annually in Simcoe Muskoka. In 2022, 13 new cases of HIV were reported to the health unit and the highest infection rate was among 25 to 39-year-olds, with more cases occurring among males than females. There is presently effective HIV treatment available that can reduce the amount of virus to undetectable levels in the body. This in turn prevents sexual transmission of HIV. This has been referred to as U=U or Undetectable=Untransmittable.
What can we do to slow down the STI storm?
Get tested if you are sexually active, particularly when you have new partners. Anyone can get a STI as these infections don’t discriminate on number of sexual partners, age, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. STI testing is simple and often requires just a urine sample. Your healthcare provider may also decide to do oral, genital or anal swabs and/or a blood test. Using barriers such as condoms or dental dams when engaging in penetrative or oral sex can also reduce your risk of getting a STI. Have open communication with your partner(s) or teens about sexual health, STI’s, testing and safe sex practices.
Where can you access testing and sexual health services?
STI testing is available through your healthcare provider’s office, walk-in clinics, community health centres, certain community agencies and sexual health clinics at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU). STI testing is free through a healthcare provider for those with an Ontario Health Card.
Some people may be hesitant to access STI testing due to concerns about confidentiality, feelings of shame or a fear of being seen accessing sexual health services or treatment in the community and being talked about. It is important to seek medical attention if you are having symptoms of a STI which could include abnormal vaginal or penis discharge, discomfort during urination, pelvic pain, irregular bleeding in between periods, or a rash or sores in the genital area.
All sexual health clinics at SMDHU in Barrie, Midland, Orillia, Collingwood, Cookstown, Gravenhurst, and Huntsville offer full sexual health services including STI testing. Testing at SMDHU is free to everyone, including those without a health card and all services are confidential. An individual can even have STI testing done without providing their name at an SMDHU sexual health clinic. The health unit also offers free STI treatment for those who test positive for bacterial STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Community health care providers and walk-in clinics can also address your STI concerns and provide testing. They can also order free STI medications from SMDHU for their clients who need treatment.
How do you book an appointment for STI testing at SMDHU?
You can self-book a SMDHU sexual health clinic appointment smdhu.inputhealth.com or you can call Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or toll-free 1-877-721-7520, weekdays between 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to book an appointment. All of our sexual health services are confidential, judgment-free, and LGBTQ2+ friendly with nurses who are easy to talk to.
Dr. Colin Lee is an Associate Medical Officer of Health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.
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