Local STI cases are increasing

The Brant County Health Unit is proposed to be merged with those serving Haldimand-Norfolk, Hamilton and Niagara. Expositor file photo

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Brantford and Brant County are seeing an increase in sexually transmitted infections, especially gonorrhea with 74 cases confirmed in the first half of this year.

That’s more than the 67 cases recorded in 2017 and approaching the 82 cases in 2018, according to the Brant County Health Unit.

Chlamydia spiked last year, jumping to 523 cases, compared to 391 in 2017. The first half of 2019 saw 333 cases recorded.

“We have no idea what the actual numbers may be,” said public health nurse Olivia Hubert, noting that many people with sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, have no symptoms.

Hubert said it’s hard to encourage people to go for testing.

“We’re trying to address it as best we can and make sure everybody can get the services they need. The most we can do is get the word out and encourage testing, even if people are not experiencing symptoms.”

Local syphilis numbers, usually fairly low, tripled in 2017 to 18 but dipped in 2018 to just 12 cases.

Local STI numbers mirror statistics from other areas across the country.

For example, the prairie provinces have seen an increase in syphilis, with Alberta declaring an outbreak of the disease.

Hubert said the local health unit collects STI data from family physicians’ offices and clinics.

“On a positive note, it could be that people are more aware of the testing and screening services being offered,” she said.

“Or it could be higher risk behaviour.”

That behaviour includes having multiple sexual partners – especially ones who haves had multiple previous partners – not using condoms, and getting involved in sexual activity at an early age.

“We recommend annual testing for all people, especially if they have a new partner,” said Hubert. “Get tested at the beginning of a new relationship and more often if you have multiple or anonymous partners or if you have sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“It all leads to higher rates of an STI.”

She noted that an STI test is as simple as giving a urine sample. Results are available within a week. And most STIs can be treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection include bumps, swelling, rashes or itching near the mouth or genitals, painful sex or urination, and a discharge or bleeding.

Untreated sexual infections can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, testicular or prostate infections.

“It’s concerning when we see high numbers of STIs but we’re being proactive,” said Hubert.

“We have screening services in all the public high schools in Brant County and some new screening at the Grand River Health Clinic (in Brantford) for those up to age 29.”

Hubert said the health unit offers information on its website.

“Talk to your physician about it,” said Hubert. “But the best way to prevent them is to practise safe sex, reduce the number of partners you have and use protection.”