The Alberta government is implementing new measures in hopes of gaining control of an ongoing outbreak of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the province.
Beginning in February 2018, Alberta Health will begin covering the cost for Human Papillomavirus immunization (HPV9) for men who have sex with men and transgender women between the ages of 17 and 26.
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The province said men who have sex with men have “disproportionately high rates” of complications from HPV infection, and are 20 per cent more likely to develop anal cancer than heterosexual men.
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The province will also update its Alberta Prenatal Screening Guidelines to recommend pregnant women be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea in their first trimester, then again in the third trimester for those at high risk of STIs.
All pregnant women are already tested for syphilis early in pregnancy and again before delivery. Six cases of congenital syphilis have been reported in Alberta so far this year.
The universal screening will continue with the help of a newly created, dedicated provincial prenatal syphilis nurse position.
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The changes were announced Tuesday as Alberta continues to see outbreak levels of syphilis and gonorrhea. An outbreak was declared in 2016 amid rising STI levels in Alberta.
“We are very concerned that syphilis and gonorrhea rates continue to be high in Alberta,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, deputy chief medical officer of health with Alberta Health. “We are hard at work helping people living with or at risk of contracting an STI.”
READ MORE: Sexually transmitted infection numbers in Alberta remain high
In 2016, there were more than 3,700 cases of gonorrhea reported in Alberta, doubling the number of cases reported in 2014.
More than 400 cases of infection syphilis were reported in Alberta in 2016, more than double the number of cases in 2014.
The proportion of females infected with syphilis increased to 13 per cent in 2016, up from five per cent the year before.
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Based on the STI cases reported so far this year, Alberta is on track to surpass last year’s numbers.
In October, the province expanded the type of STI testing available through its Test & Treat program, to include testing of the throat and rectum. STIs that infect the throat and rectum may require different treatment than infections in other sites in the body.
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Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services (AHS) want to encourage regular STI testing and safe-sex practices.