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Nunavut looking into rapid tests for syphilis

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Citing rising cases of sexually transmitted infections in the territory, Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster asked Thursday what the Government of Nunavut is doing to address an ongoing outbreak.

“I’m not ashamed to say that I have had a sexually transmitted infection; in fact, it’s kind of a fact of life in Nunavut if you are sexually active,” Brewster said during question period in the legislative assembly.

“Even if you have a committed relationship or a partnership that where you believe that it’s just the two of you, what we know is that sexually transmitted infections do occur even within those relationships.”

Brewster asked “what health promotion activities are underway in our communities to reduce the stigma of, and encourage Nunavummiut to get tested for, syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections?”

There has been a syphilis outbreak in the territory since 2012, Health Minister John Main noted in his response.

Last month, the health centre in Kugluktuk alerted residents of a high number of syphilis cases in the community and encouraged people to seek testing. It didn’t say how many cases had been reported.

Main encouraged people to read educational materials on irespectmyself.ca, a GN website with sexual health information.

“The outbreak is going to require continued effort on syphilis, to get the case numbers under control,” Main said.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection most often acquired through sexual contact, but it can also be transmitted to unborn children by pregnant women.

Continuing her questioning, Brewster said that between 2012 and 2020 in Nunavut, 655 cases of infectious syphilis were reported. She said along with sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia and gonorrhoea, syphilis is on the rise across Canada.

Brewster asked about improving people’s access to testing for syphilis in Nunavut.

She referred to a syphilis rapid test being rolled out in Nunavik, where there has also been an increase in cases over the past decade. The rapid test, which involves a finger-prick, can provide results within minutes.

“As we know from our experiences during the COVID pandemic, sending samples to a laboratory in the south can mean at least two weeks before the results come back, and those long delays in specimen transport actually allow more for time for infection to spread,” Brewster said.

“Can the minister indicate whether the Department of Health is considering implementing this rapid test for syphilis in Nunavut?”

Main said his department is looking into it.

“We are interested in that new equipment which will allow for quicker testing and diagnosis,” he said.

“We are doing the preliminary work to implement point-of-care testing in one community in Nunavut to see that available.”

He didn’t say which community that might occur in.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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