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Yellowknife a concern as NWT's STI rates continue to rise

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Alarming increases in gonorrhea and syphilis rates led the NWT to issue a public health advisory on growing numbers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In 2018, one in nine women and one in 17 men aged 15 to 24 had at minimum one STI in the territory.

Gonorrhea rates in the NWT are 17 times higher than the national 2016 rate, the territory's chief public health officer said, and five times higher than the territory’s 2013 rate.

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Since 2015 there have been 25 reported cases of infectious syphilis across nine NWT communities.

Of those cases, 85 percent were found in men.

Syphilis rates are now seven times higher than the NWT’s 2013 rate.

While these increases are described by the territorial government as “dramatic" in a press release, chlamydia still remains the most common STI in the NWT.

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The chlamydia rate has not changed since 2013 according to Dr Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer, but the NWT rate still remains six times higher than the national average.

Kandola said while rising gonorrhea and syphilis rates are a trend across Canada and the United States, rates in the NWT remain much higher than across Canada as a whole.

Some of the main risk factors for STIs include having unprotected intercourse and multiple partners within a six-month span.

Kandola told Cabin Radio she had noticed "a significant number of contacts are not known” – meaning people are having intercourse without knowing who their partners are.

Kandola explained this means the department can't contact partners to get them tested and treated.

She encouraged anyone who had engaged in "high-risk sexual behaviour" to ensure they are regularly screened and tested.

"I saw a dramatic increase in the 20- to 30-year-old population," she continued, noting a significant demographic shift in STI rates.

That contrasts with past data identifying higher STI rates among high-school students, leading health authorities to focus education efforts on that demographic.

Dedicated STI appointments

The territorial government has increased access for people in the Yellowknife region who want to get tested for STIs, where the majority of cases have been found, Kandola said.

People who would like to get tested are encouraged to call 867-767-9120 to set up an appointment for accelerated and confidential screening.

People who call the number will be given a same-day or next-day appointment.

"High rates won't come down until we mitigate the spread of STIs," said Kandola, explaining the sooner people can be seen and treated, the sooner they are not at risk of spreading infections further.