In a press conference on April 26, 2016, the local authorities have told the public that Alberta, Canada, has recorded peak levels of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) with an 80 percent increase in 2015, and the key reason for climbing rates is the use of the social media services for arranging sexual encounters.
Dr Karen Grimsrud, the new chief medical officer for the province of Alberta, said that “sexually transmitted infections in Alberta have dramatically increased in the last year and in particular the rates of gonorrhea and syphilis have reached outbreak levels”.
She explained that health officials believe the quick rise of STI levels is linked to the use of social media to make ‘an anonymous connection’. She said that Alberta has a good surveillance system which tends to make the province first to report their cases but the number of cases is increasing everywhere in the country and internationally.
Alberta Medical Director for STI services, Dr Petra Smyczek, also briefed the press that the geographical areas which are seeing the most increase in numbers of such infections include Edmonton and Calgary.
While the rates are climbing everywhere in the province, Edmonton zone saw a 57 percent increase in gonorrhea infections than the last year, and a disease rate of 14 percent for syphilis.
Alberta Health Services are working to combat the situation which is proving difficult, according to Dr Grimsrud.
The nature of sexual encounters leaves the participants without any information to identify their partners, thus making the job of tracking the infected individuals problematic for the authorities. This ensures a circle of infection in the population without suitable testing and treatment interventions.
Health Services of Alberta in an effort to control the spread of infections is now expanding the hours of consultation in sexual health clinics, along with encouragement of family doctors to speak about importance of getting tested for STIs, with their patients.
New policies on strengthening the awareness campaigns are also being rolled out. Efforts to reach at-risk groups through social media and sexgerms.com website are heightened.
The website provides resources to general public about how to speak about such infections with their partners and where to go for testing services. According to AHS, the website had 14,500 clicks recorded in a six-week awareness campaign earlier in 2016.
Dr Gerry Predy, Medical Officer of Health at AHS, on failure of Alberta’s previous STI action plan commented that the social media has made things go out of control but the Sexgerm website has helped by raising awareness among population for getting tested. This has in turn raised the diagnosed number of cases to go higher.
New data showed that nearly 3,400 cases of gonorrhea were reported with an increase of 80 percent than last year.
The biggest increase was among women of age 20-24, including indigenous women who made up half of the cases. Men saw a raise 11 percent higher than all the other provinces.
Alberta saw 350 reported cases of infections last year which was double the rate seen previously. The current high rate of STIs is seen for the first time since the end of 1980s in Alberta.
Experts pointed out a particular potential concern for infants and babies who could develop congenital syphilis. Previously 25 such cases have been registered between 2005 and 2010, nine of which were fatal. No cases were seen last year a pattern which does not promise to hold given current conditions.
Gay men accounted for 86 percent of all the cases and one-fourth of the cases of syphilis in such individuals also tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus or HIV.
Dr Predy also said that the research has helped identify “core transmitters”, the people who transmit the disease to a large portion of the population, and social media websites these people use to meet others.
He also told the press that AHS is working on new proposals to reach at-risk groups like gay men and indigenous population.
STIs are usually bacterial, viral and parasitic infections that can cause sexual diseases through vaginal intercourse, oral sex, anal sex and transmission to babies through their mothers. These infections usually do not show any symptoms at first but left untreated can cause serious health complications. Safe sex practices can help limit their spread and these infections are easily treatable, usually with antibiotics.
According to WHO, nearly one million STIs are acquired everyday globally and each year 357 million new infections occur with one of four diseases like chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis.