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Gonorrhea infection rates spike dramatically in Yukon

Yukon health officials are sounding the alarm about gonorrhea rates in the territory, saying they've spiked dramatically in the last couple of years.

90 cases diagnosed so far this year, 9 times the number of cases in 2013

Yukon's top health official is sounding the alarm about gonorrhea, saying there's been an "alarming rise" in the rate of infection since 2013.

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s medical officer of health, said a new government ad campaign is aimed at showing youth that tests for STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhea are 'no big deal.' (CBC)

Brendan Hanley, Yukon's chief medical officer of health, says there have been about 90 known cases of the sexually transmitted infection so far this year. That's double the number from 2014, and roughly nine times the number from 2013, which was considered a typical year for infection rates.

"Ninety may not sound like a whole lot of people but in terms of a rate, and when we narrow it down to mainly teens and young adults, that starts to be an important number," Hanley said. 

"We start to see a potential acceleration of transmission if those people aren't tested and treated."

Gonorrhea is a potentially serious bacterial infection that is spread through oral, anal and vaginal intercourse. It can take days for symptoms to appear, and some infected people show no symptoms at all. It can be cured with antibiotics.

Hanley said the current spike in Yukon's infection rate is not restricted to Whitehorse, and that there are "disproportionately higher rates in rural Yukon as well."

[STI tests] can be as easy as peeing in a cup.- Brendan Hanley

Hanley also said chlamydia continues to be a big problem in Yukon, and is still far more common than gonorrhea, but no less serious. Like gonorrhea, it can cause sterility if not properly treated.

​'No big deal'

Hanley said aside from practising safe sex, the best way to prevent the further spread of STIs is to get tested.

The Yukon government this week launched a new advertising campaign aimed at convincing people that testing is "no big deal." The goal is to see more young people get tested for STIs, even if they don't exhibit symptoms.

"It can be as easy as peeing in a cup," Hanley said.

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

Gonorrhea and chlamydia can usually be diagnosed from the same urine sample, but Hanley said cervical swabs or blood tests are sometimes required as well.

He said health officials have lately been diagnosing more gonorrhea cases in women, "probably for the simple reasons that young women or women in general step forward more frequently to get tested and cared for."

"But we know there's a pool of infected men as well, probably not getting tested enough," Hanley said.

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