Gonorrhea, syphilis rates spike in Alberta

Cases of gonorrhea and syphilis have skyrocketed in Alberta, officials say.

85% of syphilis cases among gay men, one third of gonorrhea cases among aboriginal people

An illustration of the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium that causes gonorrhea. (Shutterstock)

Cases of gonorrhea and syphilis have sky-rocketed in Alberta, officials say.

This week Alberta Health Services staff received an alert about a resurgence of sexually transmitted infections.

Last year, more than 3,400 cases of gonorrhea were reported — an 80 per cent increase from the year before.

The number of cases of syphilis doubled to 300.

Pam Krause, head of the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, says the numbers are disappointing.

"What it says to me is Alberta Health Services continues to lack a strategy and really effective ways reaching the populations that need it ... to actually reduce sexually transmitted infections."

A third of the gonorrhea cases are among aboriginal people, while 85 per cent of the syphilis cases are among gay men, officials say.

"Sometimes around certain populations, it's a lack of self-esteem, for example with young gay men," said Krause.

"If they lack self-esteem, they're going to engage in high-risk activities."

AHS launching new campaign

Alberta Health Services says it has a number of initiatives to fight the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

Dr. Richard Musto, Calgary's lead medical officer of health, says AHS launched a campaign aimed at homosexual men last fall to promote safe sex and regular testing for STIs. Musto adds that a new campaign targeting heterosexual couples will roll out on Monday. 

It also launched the site to provide safe sex education and disease prevention.

"Clearly, people are having sex in an unsafe way. These diseases are very infectious and easy to spread, and that's happening," said Musto.

In addition to the website and its educational campaigns, Musto says Alberta Health Services has expanded hours at clinics so more Albertans can be screened.

"We're attacking this on a number of fronts."

Alberta has some of the highest sexually transmitted infection rates in Canada. 

With files from Stephanie Rousseau.