Ottawa

Gatineau health-care advocates want better access to STI tests, results

Western Quebec's wait times for results of sexually transmitted infection tests are significantly longer than those in Ottawa.

Western Quebec's wait times for results are significantly longer than those in Ottawa

Flyers for chlamydia awareness and other sexually transmitted infections in a Belleville, Ont., clinic in 2017. (CBC)

As Ottawa grapples with ballooning rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), western Quebec health advocates are concerned about access to testing and the time it takes for results. 

The Outaouais' health agency CISSSO runs a single dedicated clinic for testing in Hull, offering 15 patient appointments over two days. 

"The less you are tested, the higher the risk of spreading infection," said Anne Castonguay, a director with BRAS Outaoauis, a non-profit that advocates for patients dealing with HIV/AIDS and other STIs.

She said people who are sexually active should get tested once a year.

Castonguay said family physicians in Quebec can also take urine tests, however many 18 to 29 year olds — the age group at highest risk — don't have a family doctor.

Private clinics can do these kinds of test for a fee. 

Lab delays

Castonguay said she'd like to see Gatineau improve the availability of testing, adding another day or two to satisfy demand at the public clinic. 

She'd also like to see an improvement in the time it takes to get tests back from the lab. 

Anne Castonguay, a director with BRAS Outaouais, is asking the local health agency to increase the number of days offered for testing patients for STIs. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

Ottawa Public Health's ByWard Market clinic is open 15 hours a week for walk-ins, spread between three weekdays, with appointments and a Thursday evening clinic in Centretown specifically for queer men on top of that.

It reports its laboratories can get most tests back within three days, with a positive gonorrhea test taking up to nine days for Ottawa patients.

The province's health agency reports test results can take between two and four weeks in western Quebec.

Castonguay said Gatineau's wait means a longer delay for treatment and potential higher costs down the road for the health care system as a result.

She said it also means the infection could spread during the interim.

"We haven't reached a public health crisis, but if we don't do something, it could become one."

Ballooning rates

CISSS did not provide its numbers of confirmed STI cases in time for publication.

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) reports rates of chlamydia have risen almost 50 per cent over the last five years, and the number of gonorrhea and syphilis cases have more than tripled in the same time period. 

The increases are much higher than the Canadian rates which show, for example, an 81 per cent increase in gonorrhea rates from 2006 until 2017. 

"Are we concerned? Absolutely," said Pam Oickle, program manager for infectious disease at OPH.

She said Ottawa can get a patient showing symptoms into a clinic within 24 hours for a blood or urine test.

Oickle said the health agency has invested more resources into tackling the growing problem, adding two more staff to deal with the rise in the number of cases, and will also be launching a new social media campaign to encourage regular testing.

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