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High Arctic STD Rate Raises Fears Of Greater HIV In Far North

Posted by pozlife on January 24, 2008

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by The Canadian Press

Posted: January 23, 2008 – 5:00 pm ET

(Toronto, Ontario) New research suggests that some sexually transmitted diseases are spreading much more quickly in the Arctic than in southern Canada.

The findings raise concerns about both the health effects of the diseases and what their transmission might hint about HIV rates in the North.

“It’s definitely been going up in the North and it’s rather alarming at how fast,’’ Dionne Gesink Law, a co-author of the paper published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, said Monday.

The paper compared instances of chlamydia and gonorrhea in Canada’s three northern territories with southern Canada, Alaska and Greenland between 2003 and 2006.

Canada ranked in the middle in terms of rates of infection, although Gesink Law said that might have been affected by different reporting practices in different countries. The relative openness in talking about sex in Denmark, which controls Greenland, might account for the higher rate of both diseases there, for instance.

But the study also shows that rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia infection are about eight times higher in Canada’s three territories than in its provinces.

And although the rate of gonorrhea infection has decreased slightly in the North, the incidence of chlamydia is growing far faster than in the south. The infection rate increased eight per cent over those years in the provinces and 18 per cent in the territories.

“Our main concern with chlamydia and gonorrhea is that they cause pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility in women,’’ said Gesink Law, a University of Toronto researcher.

“When you look at who’s actually infected, it’s young people and particularly young women. They’re carrying the burden.’’

Those diseases also lead to increased risk of HIV infection, Gesink Law said, and the high rate of transmission suggests that safer sexual practices aren’t being used.

“They obviously have sexual practices that are putting them at risk for (sexually transmitted diseases). If (HIV) was to come into the community it could spread quickly.’’

The same sexual precautions, such as the use of a condom, that would protect against gonorrhea would also protect against HIV.

Four people are known to be living with the virus in Nunavut, said Jeanette Doucet of Pauktuutit, the national Inuit women’s organization. But that number is probably misleading and little is known about the disease’s presence in the Arctic, she said.

Only pregnant women are tested for sexually transmitted diseases, she said.

“You only know as much as you’re testing for,’’ Doucet said. “It’s possible and even probable that people aren’t being tested. We know that safer sex practices are not happening.’’

The social stigma of any kind of sexual disease in small, isolated Arctic communities is a powerful disincentive to get tested, she added.

“The social isolation that would happen for people who test positive is enough to drive them away.’’

Gesink Law said the answer could be to help communities develop their own monitoring and education programs for sexually transmitted diseases.

“They will have a much better sense of what’s actually going on and what the factors are that are contributing to the transmissions. It’s much more effective if they can work on this together with us, as much as they need us.

“They know what the community will actually listen to.’’

Such efforts are already underway in Alaska and Greenland.

A meeting is scheduled in Anchorage next April between officials from Canada and the United States to discuss the issue.

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