The incidence of bacterial sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is rising in Canada. If these curable infections were prevented and treated, serious long-term sequelae including infertility, and associated treatment costs, could be dramatically reduced. STIs pose a greater risk to women than men in many ways, and further gender differences exist in screening and diagnosis.
Reported incidence rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and infectious syphilis declined until 1997, when the trend began to reverse. The reported rate of chlamydia is much higher among women than men, whereas the reverse is true for gonorrhea and infectious syphilis. Increases in high-risk sexual behaviour among men who have sex with men were observed after the introduction of potent HIV suppressive therapy in 1996, but behavioural changes in women await further research.
Data Gaps and Recommendations
STI surveillance in Canada needs improvement. Reported rates underestimate the true incidence. Gender-specific behavioural changes must be monitored to enhance responsiveness to groups at highest risk, and more research is needed on effective strategies to promote safer sexual practices. Geographic and ethnic disparities, gaps, and needs must be addressed. Urine screening for chlamydia should be more widely available for women as well as men, particularly among high-risk men in order to prevent re-infections in their partners. As women are more likely to present for health examinations (e.g. Pap tests), these screening opportunities must be utilized. Female-controlled methods of STI prevention, such as safer topical microbicides, are urgently needed.