Sexually active Canadians need to shift their attitude towards condom use, or risk becoming part of an alarming rise in statistics of those diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, according to an infectious disease expert.

“People just aren’t wearing condoms as much as they should be,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, said during an interview on CTV’s Your Morning.

“It’s no surprise—when condoms aren’t used as frequently, the rate of sexually transmitted infections will start to go up, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen.”

Canada has seen a dramatic rise in STI rates over the last decade, illustrated by several provincial outbreaks within the last year.

Last month, Alberta declared a province-wide outbreak of syphilis, with rates of the STI reaching a level not seen since 1948. A total of 1,536 cases were reported in 2018, compared to 161 in 2014—a nearly tenfold increase.

In April, New Brunswick declared a provincial gonorrhea outbreak thanks to a steep rise in cases, one officials blamed on the rise of anonymous encounters arranged through dating apps.

“The real question here is why aren’t people wearing condoms,” Bogoch asked, noting that STI rates are increasing among several populations, making it hard to pin down the reason for a decline in safe sex practices.

“At the end of the day it’s going to take a lot more than a physician waving and waging a finger saying ‘wear a condom’… We need a cultural shift and an attitude shift towards condom use to really prevent these sexually transmitted infections.”

The attitude that STIs are easily treated may be a reason for a decline in condom use, according to Bogoch. But the expert warns that attitude is becoming increasingly dangerous thanks to the rise of antibiotic resistant infections.

“We’re not entering the era of drug resistance—we are in the era of drug resistance,” he said.

Bogoch noted that most cases of gonorrhea are now treated with a shot of antibiotics as the pill-form treatment becomes less effective.

“There are fewer and fewer options to treat these infections, and it’s no surprise that when you start handing out antibiotics like Halloween candy the antibiotics stop working,” he continued.

How to protect yourself

STIs are predominantly spread through unprotected sex; however, it’s important to note that some infections, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, can be transmitted to babies during pregnancy and childbirth.

Syphilis can also be spread through contact with infected blood or blood products and drug use through injections.

According to the WHO, symptoms of STIs can include genital lesions, urethral or vaginal discharge, pain when urinating, and bleeding between periods for women.

However, in many cases, people don’t experience any symptoms at all, which is why it’s important for sexually active individuals to get tested on a regular basis, and use condoms when engaging with a new partner.

Public Health Canada has resources regarding safer condom use on its website.