Hamilton public health officials are making greater efforts to reach men who have sex with men, and women aged 20 to 24, in an effort to curb growing rates of sexually transmitted infections.
For at least four years in a row, STIs are up across the city’s population. But the biggest increases are chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, says Dr. Ninh Tran, Hamilton’s associate medical officer of health.
Chlamydia rates are increasing most with women aged 20 to 24, Tran said. Women are carrying chlamydia and often don’t know it, especially since women are getting pap tests less frequently. Gonorrhea and syphilis, meanwhile, are increasing most rapidly among men who have sex with men.
Public health educators are looking at new ways to get the word out to those populations about testing and condom usage. In early 2018, they launched an online campaign promoting testing for syphilis and HIV. They’re also striking new partnerships with colleges and universities, and reaching out to bathhouses.
“We’re looking at almost two different stories,” Tran said. “You have two different cultures, two different populations.”
Hamilton’s board of health looked over the statistics Monday. The numbers were as follows:
- 2018: 2,638 reported cases of sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.
- 2017: 2,420 cases.
- 2016: 2,249 cases.
- 2015: 2,038 cases.
For these purposes, blood-borne infections are infections passed by through sex or needles, such as HIV or hepatitis C. Rates for the latter are up, Tran said, while HIV rates are fairly stable. There has been a spike in HIV cases from intravenous drug use.
As for why rates are increasing, Tran said people are having more casual sex and using condoms less often when they do.
Apps have led to more casual hook ups, he said. And people don’t see HIV as a death sentence anymore, so condoms aren’t as big a priority. Combine those two and you have increasing rates.
“The biggest challenge is going to be changing the behaviour,” he said. “That’s a broader societal challenge.”
In 2018, rates of STIs nearly doubled compared to what Hamilton saw between 2005 and 2010. Last year, the rates were 414.6 cases per 100,000 people. In 2005 to 2010, it was 244.2 cases.