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Media Release: Residents urged to get sexual health check-up in response to local outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhea, and new cases of HIV

Hastings and Prince Edward Counties/July 29, 2021 – Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) is urging all residents having condomless sex to get a sexual health check-up to know their status and risk for STIs and HIV. All individuals having condomless sex are at risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) as increasing rates are being reported in the region.

HPEPH has declared a syphilis outbreak in response to a sudden and unprecedented increase of cases being reported in HPEC. Eighteen (18) cases of syphilis have been reported in HPEC in 2021 (including infectious, latent, and other). The current rate of infectious syphilis in HPEC is almost 3-times higher than the 5-year average. There also continues to be a gonorrhea outbreak in the region, with 48 cases reported so far this year. In addition, new cases of HIV have recently been reported in the region – further emphasizing the need for individuals to use a condom every time in order to protect themselves and others when having sex.

Who should get a sexual health checkup?

Individuals from all age groups, relationship statuses, and sexual orientations are testing positive for STIs – meaning that anyone who is having condomless or unprotected sexual contact could be at risk. Many of the symptoms of STIs are mild and may not be noticed, or may mimic other illnesses. If you’ve had condomless/unprotected sex, talk to your health care provider about getting tested as soon as possible.   

If you do not have a health care provider, it is still very important that you get a sexual health check up. If you have been exposed to STIs, seeing a health care provider will help ensure infections are identified and treated as soon as possible. If you are experiencing noticeable symptoms or your symptoms are very mild and you do not have a health care provider, visit a walk-in clinic. If your symptoms are severe, visit the ER.

Individuals in a relationship are also encouraged to consider testing, even if they have only one partner. If one partner is engaging in sexual activities outside of the relationship, they could be exposed to STIs and pass them on.

What are the symptoms of STIs and HIV?

Symptoms of syphilis are often mild or may be attributed to other conditions. Many individuals may not notice any symptoms at all. Early symptoms may include painless sores in the genital, mouth, or rectal area, swollen lymph nodes, rash, fever, malaise/general feeling of being unwell, sore throat, headaches, hair loss, and eye redness.

Symptoms of gonorrhea can be mild or might not be noticed at all. When present, symptoms might include unusual discharge/burning/itchiness from genital area or rectum, burning or pain when urinating, abdominal pain, sore throat/swollen glands, or eye discharge. Since over 50% of men and woman will not have symptoms of gonorrhea, they will not know they have the infection unless they are tested.

Early symptoms of HIV can also be mild or might not be noticed. Early symptoms of HIV can be “flu-like” such as fever, fatigue, muscle pain, diarrhea, skin rash, and sore throat. If HIV is left untreated, individuals can develop more serious symptoms and be at risk of life-threatening illness.

If my symptoms are mild, why should I care about STIs?

Both gonorrhea and syphilis are treatable, but can cause long-term health effects for men and women if not identified and treated as soon as possible. Both of these STIs can increase women’s risk of complications in pregnancy and can threaten the health and life of their baby. Gonorrhea can lead to infertility for both men and women. Syphilis can lead to serious and long-term health complications including bone and organ damage, mental health problems, and even death. Anyone having condomless sex can be infected with gonorrhea or syphilis and not know it. Get tested to know your status and protect yourself and others from long-term health complications.

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is not an STI but is spread through unprotected sexual contact. Currently, there is no effective cure for HIV, however, with early identification and proper medical care, HIV can be effectively controlled. Since HIV weakens a person’s immune system by destroying important cells that fight disease and infection, knowing your status and seeking medical care can help your support your body’s immune system. Anyone having unprotected sex can be infected with HIV, and not know it. They may not look or feel sick for years, but can still pass the virus on to other people. If you are having condomless sex, you have a responsibility to know your status – to protect your own health and the health of others.

How can I avoid exposure to STIs and HIV?

To avoid exposure to STIs and HIV, know your partner’s status – as well as your own. Get a sexual health check up as soon as possible, and ask your partner(s) to get tested. If you aren’t aware or aren’t confident in their status, use a condom – every time. Avoid sharing sex toys, and take care when drinking or using drugs in order to avoid unplanned and/or unprotected sex.

For more information about STIs, visit our website or call the HPEPH Sexual Health Team at 613-966-5500, extension 418.

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Media Contacts:

Maureen Hyland, Communications Specialist
mhyland@hpeph.ca

Emily Tubbs, Communications Specialist
etubbs@hpeph.ca  

About Hastings Prince Edward Public Health

Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) is a public health agency that serves the counties of Hastings and Prince Edward from four local offices. We monitor the health of our local population, deliver programs and services within our communities, and help develop healthy public policies. We provide information and support in many areas to help improve the health and well-being of our residents. Together with our communities, we help people become as healthy as they can be. For more information, please visit hpePublicHealth.ca. You can also find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

We invite community partners and residents to share this Media Release with their respective networks.

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COVID-19 VACCINES IN HPEPH

Individuals turning 12 and over in 2021 who have not yet had a first dose, or those who meet the minimum second dose interval are now eligible to attend HPEPH walk-in clinics. To view the schedule, visit the Booking and Eligibility Page.

If you attended a clinic and did not receive an email copy of your vaccination receipt you can download a copy off the provincial booking site at covid19.ontariohealth.ca.

PHARMACY-BASED VACCINATIONS

Individuals turning 12 and over in 2021 can also receive their vaccination at participating local pharmacies. Please visit covid-19.ontario.ca/vaccine-locations for location and registration information.

CURRENT RESTRICTIONS IN HPEPH

On Friday, July 16 at 12:01 a.m., Ontario moved to Step 3  of the the Roadmap to Reopen. We must all continue to follow the public health measures, advice and restrictions. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 100 people in Step 3, and distancing must be maintained. For more information, visit our COVID-19 page.

POTENTIAL EXPOSURE TO COVID-19?

If you are concerned about potential exposure to a positive case of COVID-19, please be reassured that any contacts of a confirmed case will be contacted directly and monitored by public health.

Low-risk and indirect contacts should self monitor for symptoms for 10 days from the time of potential exposure and seek testing if symptoms develop. Low risk contacts do not need to isolate unless symptoms develop, and can continue to attend school/work/daycare while monitoring for symptoms.