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What Canadians Need To Know About STI Testing And Sexual Health

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If you’re having unprotected sex, there’s a good chance getting tested against sexually transmitted infections is a solid plan. That’s because STI rates have been climbing in Canada since the 1990s. The numbers have been impressive, with chlamydia climbing from 39,372 cases in 1998 to 116,499 cases in 2015. Syphilis rates continue to climb too. They have risen from 501 to 4,551 cases. Gonorrhea rates have increased from 5,076 to 19,845 patients in the time frame.

Having symptoms isn’t a good indicator of STI status, as nearly 70% of all women and half of all men don’t show signs of chlamydia. The only way to know whether you’ve been infected is with blood, urine, or genital swab for the bacteria.

What’s concerning is the lack of testing by sexually active Canadians. By failing to get tested, there’s a significant risk of exposure to others. With a society that sits in a pyramid of people seeing, dating, and sleeping with multiple people simultaneously, it’s a recipe for disaster. Add this shyness of testing with a lax attitude toward barrier protection methods; these numbers will continue to climb.

Why do people avoid testing?

There is a significant stigma attached to STIs, including shame, guilt, and fear. People believe that having a sexually transmitted infection makes them dirty or “easy,” but it’s simply not the case. Canadian physicians want to promote the health of all Canadians; sexual health is an essential piece of that.

When should someone get tested for STIs?

Anytime you’ve had sexual activity (whether that’s intercourse or other variations of it), you should be tested for STIs. These tests should occur whether you’ve had active symptoms or not. This is particularly true for anyone that’s had unprotected sex, a break in the condom, or doesn’t know the person’s status with whom they’re intimate. Sexually transmitted diseases don’t discriminate by age, gender, orientation, or ethnicity.

It’s important to remember that all STIs have an incubation period. This means a panel will not accurately reflect the STI until a specific period has lapsed. For example, chlamydia or gonorrhea won’t show for two to six days, while syphilis needs three to six weeks to show up. When in doubt, always talk to your doctor before having an STI panel completed. You may need to return for a follow-up visit to retest.

How often should testing be done?

The answer depends on the sexual activity of a person. If you have multiple partners, engage in unprotected sex, or aren’t in a monogamous relationship, you’ll want to get tested more frequently than someone who’s in a monogamous dynamic. It’s important to remember that patients taking PrEP in Canada are required to have STI and HIV paneling completed every three months.

At the very minimum, anyone entering a new relationship should have a complete workup done before engaging in unprotected sex. By doing this, both partners are on the same page about their sexual health and what they may be bringing to the relationship.

What is the screening process?

Depending on the type of STI, screening may vary. Most STIs can be done through blood tests (which can pinpoint HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis) and urine tests (which can identify chlamydia and gonorrhea. For women, swabs of the cervix can identify these STIs as well. Any abnormal cervical changes could indicate an active HPV infection, although 75% of all adults will have an HPV infection at some point in their life.

Where can an individual get tested?

STI testing is free across Canada, with multiple locations available. These include doctor’s offices, walk-in clinics, community centers, public health units, and sexual health clinics. Some provinces also provide anonymous HIV testing sites. Most locations will offer drop-in services, although you may need to call ahead for an appointment.

What are the treatment options for STIs?

The answer strictly depends on the type of infection, but it’s much easier to prevent STIs than dealing with one. Some STIs can be treated with antibiotics or antivirals, although some infections will last a lifetime. These treatments are strictly dependent on bacteria not developing antibiotic-resistant strains, which would lessen the likelihood of the treatment clearing the infection. Currently, HIV, super gonorrhea, and some other STIs have strains of resistance form. These can complicate treatment overall, making certain antibiotics useless when it comes to treatment plans.

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