Frequent testing for sexually transmitted diseases encouraged by public health officials
Horizon Health Network is urging people to get tested for sexually transmitted and blood-borne diseases in the wake of a 175 per cent increase in reported HIV cases in the Fredericton and Oromocto areas.
Dr. Na-Koshie Lamptey, the regional medical officer of health, says officials are still trying to determine what is driving the apparent increase in reported cases.
“We do know that there’s a number of things in the reported cases. Many of the cases are due to people who have chronic infections but there has also been newly acquired infections as well from local exposures.”
Lamptey said since January, public health has received 16 new reports of HIV in New Brunswick. This is double the number of cases the department expects to see reported in a year.
Average age is 33
Lamptey said 11 of the new cases were in the Fredericton and Oromocto areas.
She said the average age of the people affected was 33, ranging from 20 to 58 years old.
“So there is quite a range there of young adults and older middle-aged adults.”
Lamptey said it’s not clear why the number of cases is increasing in the Fredericton and Oromocto areas, adding that health officials are encouraging people to get tested no matter where they live in New Brunswick.
“If we encourage that message we might find that there are other people with the infection who may not know it and we know that that’s a big source of potential transmission of the infection to others.”
Residents can call Telecare 811 to be directed to a clinic where they can be tested for sexually transmitted infections.
“And when people are concerned about simply having a high risk of acquiring HIV, we encourage them to get tested for other sexually transmitted infections and blood borne infections like gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis B and others.”
Public health confirmed it was also seeing an increase in people with gonorrhea.
“For example, last year we had 56 cases in 2017 and this year already we’ve had 64 cases and remember, we’re not fully through the year,” said Lamptey, adding that 42 per cent of the cases were reported in the Fredericton area.
Lamptey said the behaviours and the exposures that can make people at increased risk for one sexually transmitted infection can make them at risk for others.
She said that’s why it’s not surprising to see an increase in reported HIV cases following increases in other infections, citing the last outbreak of syphilis.
Lamptey said those numbers have never returned to where they were before the outbreak, which saw the number of cases of syphilis in New Brunswick rise tenfold from 2009 to 2012.
“We know if people are still acquiring syphilis, which is acquired through unprotected sex, that it’s possible that other sexually transmitted diseases can also be transmitted.” said Lamptey.
Lamptey said while there have been improvements in the types of treatments and medications for those with HIV, “it’s still an infection for which people can take measures to reduce their risk of acquiring the infection.”
Some of those precautions include wearing barrier protection during sex and not sharing needles if injecting drugs.
Lamptey said anyone engaging in behaviours that put them at higher risk should be tested so they know their HIV status and can get treatment quickly.