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February 13, 2019 • read
Sexually transmitted infection rates are rising — here’s why
It’s February, which means Valentine’s Day for many of us. A great time to fall in love, to wine and dine our partners, and … to remind ourselves that STI rates are on the rise. Most people would rather talk about almost anything else. Despite that, educating yourself on the signs and symptoms, as well as on ways to protect yourself is crucial. Here’s what you should know.
What is an STI?
No matter what you call it, an STI or an STD or VD (venereal disease), the terms all mean the same thing. An STD is an infection which is contracted through sexual contact — either oral, anal or vaginal sex. There are different types of STIs, but the most common in Canada are chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. Other examples of STIs include: HIV, herpes, and the human papilloma virus (HPV). Symptoms of venereal disease vary between sexes.
Signs and symptoms of STIs
What is interesting is that certain STDs produce obvious symptoms in only one sex. Gonorrhea, for example, produces symptoms in men such as a pus-like discharge from the penis, or pain and burning while urinating, but don’t cause noticeable symptoms in women.
In men, STD symptoms can also include genital warts, sores or ulcers, pain when ejaculating, itching around the opening of the penis or anus, or pain or swelling in the testicles. Bloody discharge from the anus and painful bowel movements are also possible symptoms of infection. STD symptoms in women can range from sores, to vaginal odour and discharge, to burning and pain while urinating. They can also include warts, itching or pain during sex and rashes.
STD rates have been rising in Canada for years now. Gonorrhea is the second most common STD in the country, and rates increased 65% between 2010 and 2015. 15- to 29-year-olds had the highest rates of infection. Chlamydia, however, is by far the most common STD in Canada. Between 2010 and 2015, rates increased 128% between 30- to 39-year-olds, and 100% among people between 40 and 59.
We’ve all seen the safe-sex campaigns, so what’s going on? Part of the story is that we have more sensitive testing methods. This means that cases that previously went undetected are now caught. Antimicrobial resistance is another factor, as some infections are resistant to at least one antibiotic. This means patients may continue to transmit the STI unaware that their course of antibiotics hasn’t cured it. Unfortunately, social stigma and lack of education also continue to play a role, as many don’t seek treatment or don’t know how to prevent or treat an STI.
Prevention of STIs
There is no foolproof way to prevent contracting all STIs unless you abstain from sexual activities completely. Methods of birth control such as the pill or IUD do not prevent you from getting an STD. There are, however, measures you can take to reduce your risk. You should always use condoms for vaginal, oral and anal sex. As well, vaccines can prevent contraction of certain STIs such as HPV and Hepatitis B. Some of us don’t experience any noticeable symptoms when infected. Because of this, regular screening for STIs when you are sexually active is also important, especially when changing partners.
How to check for STDs
Getting timely treatment for STIs is crucial. Even if you don’t have symptoms, you are still infected and can transmit it to your partner. On top of this, if left untreated certain infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia can lead to infertility and reactive arthritis, and certain strains of HPV can even cause cancer. But if some STIs don’t show obvious symptoms, how do you know to get treated? The answer is going for regular screenings. This is why pregnant women are typically screened for STDs. They can pass infections on to their children in utero or during childbirth without ever knowing they were infected. This can lead to a host of problems for their babies, including blindness and even death.
Treatment for STIs
The stigma surrounding STIs keeps many of us from getting proper treatment. While some infections, such as herpes, are life-long, antibiotics can cure most STDs within a few weeks. Telemedicine can offer a great option for treatment, as doctors can accurately diagnose STDs based on described signs and symptoms, sometimes accompanied by an image. This can be especially helpful for those who are uncomfortable seeing their doctor in person, as most telemedicine visits can be done via text message.
While it can seem like getting an STI is the end of the world, there are effective treatments available.