STIs on the rise

Students should be tested regularly, health experts say

Between 2006 and 2007, gonorrhea cases in the Kingston area almost doubled from about 10 to 20.

In that same time, chlamydia cases increased from 388 to 427, and cases of syphilis increased from six to seven.

Penny Lavalley, director of the infectious disease prevention program at Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health, said she can only guess as to why the rates are rising.

“Anecdotally, when we do our case follow-up, people do seem to have more than one partner,” she said, adding that the rise might also have something to do with population. “The rate might not be that different; it’s just when you have more people, you have more cases.”

Sexual Health Resource Centre Executive Director Kat Heintzman said it’s hard to pinpoint infection rates for students.

“There are people who are not sexually active and there are people who don’t get tested,” Heintzman said.

“Some people might go to other clinics given that right now [Health, Counselling and Disability Services is] taking people as late as April.”

She said chlamydia is the most common bacterial STI: one in every four students tested for STIs will test positive for chlamydia.

Heintzman said the best way to prevent STIs is to use barrier methods—condoms for acts of penetration, dental dams for oral activities and gloves for manual stimulation.

She said viral STIs such as HPV and herpes are often only detected by symptoms.

“Many people would test positive for HPV and never exhibit a symptom and never have a problem,” Heintzman said, adding that blood tests aren’t used to test for viral infections because viral blood tests only test for antibodies.

But Heintzman said regardless of symptoms, it’s wise for people who are sexually active to be tested for STIs. She said some infections that aren’t always considered STIs, such as scabies, can be contracted in places where people are living together in close contact, such as residences.

Scabies burrow under the skin and lay eggs, which create an itchy bruise, she said. Although scabies can be transmitted through casual contact, it’s even more easily transmitted through sexual contact, she said.

“It’s considered a communicable disease that if you were sexually active ... it would be very, very easy to transmit it that way.”

Heinzman said it’s important to remember that there’s nothing “dirty” about an STI.

“One in four people could have it.” Lee Fisher-Goodchild, co-ordinator of Health Education and Health Promotion Programs, said most people who are sexually active should be tested once a year.

“Sometimes people will come in at the end of a relationship because they want to know they don’t have anything,” she said. “The more partners you have the more likely you are to have sex with someone who has an infection.”

Fisher-Goodchild said all sexually active women are encouraged to have a pap smear every year. The clinic routinely tests for chlamydia when a woman has a pap smear.

HCDS doesn’t have records for the number of STI cases at Queen’s, but reportable cases are sent to the public health unit.

Nick Petronella, ArtSci ’09, said he thinks safe sex is encouraged on campus.

Safe sex involves using the right contraceptives and choosing an appropriate place to have sexual intercourse, he said.

“Not outdoors or the bathroom,” he said.

Michelle Shoemaker, ArtSci ’10, said a lot of Queen’s students feel invincible when it comes to STIs.

“Awareness is key. … With my friends it’s not a taboo subject, so maybe it’s more open to talk about it with our partners,” she said.

Greg Nonato, ArtSci ’08, said he doesn’t think learning about protection is a big issue because there are many resources around.

He said it might be that STI rates aren’t rising, but awareness is rising.

“Maybe there’s more awareness so maybe people are reporting it more.”

—With files from Erin Flegg and Gloria Er-Chua

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