Alberta STD rates drop for 1st time since 2004

Alberta has arrested its skyrocketing rate of sexually transmitted infections, new statistics released Monday suggest.

More work needs to be done, says chief medical officer

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne listens on as Dr. Andre Corriveau, the province's chief medical officer, talks Monday about Alberta's STD rate falling for the first time since 2004. (CBC)

Alberta has arrested its skyrocketing rate of sexually transmitted infections, new statistics released Monday suggest.

But the province's chief medical officer says more work needs to be done.

'The battle is not won yet'—Dr. Andre Corriveau

"The battle is not won yet," Dr. Andre Corriveau told a news conference held to release rates for the year 2010.

"Chlamydia rates are still high. They have more than doubled from 2000 to 2010 and remain well above the national average," he said.

"And we have twice as many cases of gonorrhea in 2010 as we did in 2000."

However he noted that if 2010 trends continue into 2011, Alberta will remain consistent with averages across Canada, meaning it will no longer have the dubious distinction of the worst rates in Canada.

The numbers show that in 2010 there were 16,298 cases of sexually transmitted infections — a five per cent drop from a peak of 17,217 cases a year earlier.

HIV, AIDS rate drop

The rate of HIV and AIDS also fell, to 192 newly diagnosed cases in 2010 compared with 219 in 2009 and 233 a year before that.

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne, alongside Corriveau at the news conference, said the figures show the government is committed to fixing a problem it has come under sharp criticism for ignoring in years past.

"In 2009 we initiated a much more aggressive approach, recruiting more staff, targeted awareness through public education, (and) increased testing and followup for those infected," said Horne.

"These achievements, while we celebrate them today, must result in new efforts that reduce the rates even further."

Critics say that wasn't always the case.

Syphilis awareness campaign rejected

In 2009, then health minister Ron Liepert rejected advice to move ahead with a syphilis awareness campaign, even though the disease was moving into the mainstream and some infants were dying.

Liepert said he didn't think the campaign would be effective and that those at higher risk had to be responsible for their own health.

Last May, with syphilis infection rates among the highest in Canada, then health minister Gene Zwozdesky announced a $14-million, multi-year campaign to combat syphilis and other related infections.

The campaign featured edgy Internet and TV ads — some showing young people with infection symptoms -- aimed at the highest risk group, youth aged 15 to 24.

Corriveau said the message got through, with more young people going to get tested in the last eight months.

"We had two very successful mostly Internet-based campaigns that created some buzz and went a little bit viral, if I can use the expression," said Corriveau.

"It did result in a sharp increase in the number of people going to get tested."

Gonorrhea rate drops 43.8 per cent

The 2010 numbers show gonorrhea affected 32 out of every 100,000 Albertans, a drop of 43.8 from a year earlier, and matching it with the national rate.

Infectious syphilis was 4.5 per 100,000, a steep drop from the 7.7 rate in 2009 and under the national average of 5.1.

Corriveau said there were reports of two newborns contracting syphilis through their mothers in 2010 for a total of 27 in the last decade.

He said he believed one of the two died and couldn't say if the other had contracted a birth defect.

Chlamydia rates were 353 per 100,000, much worse than the national rate of 279.

When it comes to sexually transmitted infections in general, the main concern is among youth, aboriginals and men who have sex with other men.

Geographically, northern Alberta has the highest rate of sexually transmitted infections, given the large aboriginal population and the number of itinerant workers in the oilsands operations, said Corriveau.

There were 553 cases for every 100,000 in the north.

The numbers fell as one headed south to a low of 294 cases per 100,000 in southern Alberta.

There were 480 cases per 100,000 in Edmonton, 427 in the central and 386 in Calgary.