SOUTHERN ALBERTA: A new provincial strategy to reduce rates of sexually transmitted infections should have a significant impact locally, according to southern Alberta's top doctor.
"This is an ongoing process that we've been working on for a long time," says Vivien Suttorp, lead medical officer of health for the southern Alberta zone.
She says STI rates in this area are in line with provincial and national statistics, which have been identified as "on the rise." In 2009, for example, there were 379 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in Alberta, compared to 258 cases per 100,000 people across Canada. The province also recorded 43.8 cases of gonorrhea per 100,000 people in 2009, out-stepping the national rate of 33.1/100,000.
Though southern Alberta's case numbers are occasionally lower than the provincial average, they are believed to be on the increase. Suttorp says it's impossible to attribute the rise to one exact cause. But she says much of it has to do with the attitude some may have that "it can't happen to me," or thinking they're immune to contracting a disease a second or third time once they've been treated for it. She says public education on prevention, screening, early detection and treatment is the key to changing attitudes and increasing local health.
"A lot of these infections are asymptomatic. A person may have a lesion, but it might quickly heal," says Suttorp about the difficulties the population may face in recognizing they have a sexually transmitted infection. "There's simple screening tests that we can do for each one of these, that you can obtain from a physician and simple treatment. Though of course in cases like HIV there is no cure."
The southern Alberta zone is seeing these issues affect more diverse and older demographics. To combat the situation, part of the provincial campaign that will be introduced locally includes sending more information to doctors, making sexual health centres more accessible, and increasing public awareness.
"Nobody is immune to this," she says. "And the most important thing is you can protect yourself."