Are hookup apps to blame for spike in STIs?
Health officials in the Maritimes are examining the number of STI cases after a concerning message from Alberta health officials blames an alarming spike in sexually transmitted infections on social media sites.
The Alberta health officials say anonymous hookups, arranged through social media or dating apps, are the main reason for a big increase in several infections, including gonorrhea and syphilis.
“If we can identify the websites people are going to to hook up, then we can target the emails accessing those sites to send ads we want to get out,” says Dr. Gerry Predy, the senior medical officer of health for Alberta Health Services.
Cases of gonorrhea were up 80 per cent from 2014 in Alberta last year and are the highest since the late 1980s.
The number of syphilis cases in the province doubled in 2015 from 2014.
Officials in Alberta suspect increased use of online hookup apps, such as Tinder or Grindr, where two people who don't know each other connect online and arrange to meet up, is to blame for the spike.
But Matthew Smith, the prevention programs manager with AIDS New Brunswick, isn’t so sure.
“I think that a lot of people would look at the apps and say this is causing the increase in infection. I’m not sure I would agree with that,” says Smith.
“I think that people have sex. I think that people are always going to have sex and I think that the problem is not how you're meeting people or that you're having sex. The problem is how you're having sex.”
New Brunswick Public Health says it is aware of what officials are seeing in Alberta and says it is important to know that an increase there could have an impact in the Maritimes.
According to public health officials, the numbers of sexually transmitted infections, including gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia, remain steady in New Brunswick. However, there was an outbreak of syphilis that ended in 2012.
In 2013, a New Brunswick man who had sex with people he met through an anonymous website, was later diagnosed with HIV, possibly infecting up to two dozen men.
New Brunswick Public Health officials say there's no information to confirm that anonymous hookup apps or social media is directly to blame for an increase in STIs. However, there is likely an increase in sexual encounters, so they are reminding people to practice safe sex and get tested.
“You cannot know what your status is without being tested. Oftentimes people are asymptomatic to certain sexually transmitted infections, or the symptoms take so long to show, so a person can go around for years and not know that they 've been exposed or they're infected with a certain STI,” says Smith.
Smith says asking your doctor explicitly to be tested for each STI is the best way to ensure your status.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Laura Brown