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Women’s health

Common STIs that are on the rise (and becoming more resistant)

You probably know that sexual activity comes with certain risks. It’s important to have the latest facts so you can protect your health, and guarding against the most common sexually transmitted infections (or STIs) means having all the information you need to make good decisions.

In Canada, trends are measured for three STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhea and infectious syphilis. Over the last decade, these three infections have been seen more and more in Canada and around the world. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the two most common STIs in Canada, and syphilis, while previously a rare condition, has increased dramatically.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common STI in Canada, and the rate of chlamydia infection has been steadily increasing. You can get it by having oral, anal or vaginal sex with an infected person, and a mother can also give it to her child during childbirth. It often has no symptoms, but it can cause serious problems, like sterility, especially for infected women.

The only way to know for sure if you have chlamydia is to get tested. You can prevent infection by safer sex practices, such as the use of condoms and being tested regularly if you are sexually active.

Gonorrhea

The second-most common STI in Canada is gonorrhea (a bacterial infection), and the rate of this infection is also increasing. Like chlamydia, you can get gonorrhea through anal, oral or genital sex with an infected person and mothers can pass the infection on to their children during childbirth. Sometimes gonorrhea can have few symptoms, but the most common symptoms of gonorrhea include pain and swelling, discharge or burning and itching of the genitals or anus.

If gonorrhea is not treated, it can cause serious health concerns, like infertility. You can prevent gonorrhea by practicing safer sex, talking to your partner about their STI status and using condoms correctly. If you are diagnosed with gonorrhea, it’s important to follow all your doctor’s instructions carefully.

Drug-resistant gonorrhea: A growing problem

Recently, drug-resistant forms of gonorrhea bacteria have been found across Canada and the world, and this means the infection is getting harder to treat. Resistance happens when bacteria change in some way that makes antibiotic treatments stop working effectively.

To help prevent drug resistance from developing, it is important that you do the following:

  • Always take your antibiotics exactly as your doctor tells you
  • Don’t save antibiotics and use them the next time you get sick
  • Don’t take antibiotics meant for someone else
  • Don’t take antibiotics for viral infections

Infectious syphilis

Infectious syphilis used to be very rare, but it has increased dramatically in Canada in recent years. This is because of recent outbreaks in several major cities. You can be infected through oral, genital or anal sex, through an open wound on your skin, or through intravenous drug use.

Syphilis can have few symptoms, or the symptoms can mimic something else. Syphilis has several stages and can be a very serious condition. It can also significantly increase your risk of getting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Chlamydia and gonorrhea were decreasing in Canada before 1997 and syphilis was rare, but these trends have reversed. This is probably because of people being less careful about having safer sex.

Learning about safer sex practices and making responsible sexual choices can help you prevent and reduce these infections and protect your sexual health into the future.

Want more information and support? Search “STI” in Find Support for organizations in your area.

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