Healthy Living in the North

Celebrating healthy and safe relationships

Medical professional administering HIV test.

Sexual and Reproductive Health Day (and Valentine’s Day!) gives us a chance to celebrate sexuality, diversity, and pleasure and reflect on our relationships. One part of a safe and healthy relationship is knowing your STI status and regular testing from a health-care professional!

This blog post was co-written by Sam Milligan, Andrew Burton, Lesley Cerny, and Ciro Panessa. To learn more about all of our blog writers, visit our Contributors page.


Sexual and Reproductive Health Day is February 12. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, this is a good time to celebrate sexuality, diversity, and pleasure and reflect on relationships old and new. Healthy sexuality is fundamental to the physical and emotional health and well-being of individuals, couples and families. While we think about our intimate relationships, let’s not forget to think about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and about taking precautions to protect our health and the health of those we care about.

When we think about having sex with someone, we want it to be a part of a fulfilling relationship. STIs are among the most widespread infections in the world. Here in the north, we have some of the highest rates of STIs in all of B.C. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and infectious syphilis are steadily increasing. HIV and hepatitis C can be sexually transmitted, too. Because many STIs have few or no noticeable symptoms, you may think you don’t have one but the only way to be sure is to get tested! Not knowing leaves you and your partner open to potentially serious health complications like cervical cancer and sterility. Have an open and honest discussion with your doctor, ask for regular testing from a health-care professional, and follow up when you get the results.

Valentine’s Day is a time to respect, honour and celebrate our relationships. That means respecting, honouring and celebrating ourselves and those we care about. Keeping ourselves and those we love healthy is a good thing.

STIs can be treated and, in some cases, treated easily. Treatment is only part of the approach, though. As northerners, we know that STI rates are high here. The more STI testing becomes routine, the more that STIs can be prevented. We need to build up resiliency in our communities to prevent sexual ill-health in the first place. Northern Health is committed to partnering with communities to promote sexual health as an important, integral component of health and well-being.

Sam Milligan

About Sam Milligan

Sam is the regional health systems navigator in Northern Health’s blood borne pathogens (BBP) services team. In his role, he provides education and consultation services to communities and programs across the north. Some of his responsibilities include improving community access to HIV & HCV treatment, increase testing for HIV/HCV, and provide current practice education to staff, physicians, and community members. If not at work or talking about work, Sam can be found in the realms of adventures with his two young sons or hanging out with the most gorgeous woman on the planet: his wife.

Share

Taking aim at stigma: Northern Health offers routine HIV testing to everyone

Northern Health staff person stands in front of a display board for HIV project

As a member of the Blood Borne Pathogens team, Sam Milligan provides HIV/HCV education and consultation services to regional Northern Health programs and communities.

Northern Health is taking steps to reduce the stigma around HIV by introducing routine HIV testing for everyone, not just people at risk.

In addition to current risk-based testing guidelines, Northern Health has adapted the 2014 HIV testing guidelines developed by the British Columbia Office of the Provincial Health Officer. These guidelines recommend that everyone between 18 to 70 years of age, in both acute care settings and the community, be offered an HIV test every five years as part of routine health screening.

Preceding the release of the 2014 HIV testing guidelines, the University Hospital of Northern BC initiated the routine offer of HIV screening in December 2013 to all admitted patients who are having blood work taken for another reason while admitted.

“The Public Health Agency of Canada estimated in 2011 that approximately 25 per cent of people living with HIV in Canada are unaware of their HIV-positive status. Evidence also suggests that this 25 per cent account for up to 70 per cent of all new HIV infections,” says Bareilly Sweet, Northern Health’s Regional Coordinator, Blood Borne Pathogens Services.

“We also know that nearly 55 per cent of new HIV diagnoses in Northern Health are diagnosed late, with close to 20 per cent of new diagnoses fitting the criteria for advanced HIV. This means that over half of the people living within Northern Health’s region should already be on HIV treatment at the time of their HIV diagnosis.”

Historically, the reason for an HIV test has fallen into two categories: routine testing for women during pregnancy, and voluntary testing for everyone else. The problem lays in the second option — voluntary testing. For voluntary testing to occur, two conditions have to be met:

  • Health care providers need to ask their clients about risk and risk-related behaviour; however, current research evidence suggests such conversations are very difficult for health care providers to initiate with patients; and
  • Patients need to know they are at risk, recognize that risk, and be willing to disclose risk to their health care provider.

“Unfortunately, the current testing criterion stigmatizes testing. This discourages clinicians from offering an HIV test and discourages patients from seeking and/or accepting an HIV test,” says Sweet. “But that won’t stop us from continuing our work to normalize HIV testing, because routine testing will catch HIV infections in the early stages. And that’s what we need to do, because then we can improve the patient experience on every step of the HIV journey.”

St. John Hospital in Vanderhoof, Stuart Lake Hospital in Fort St. James and the Fraser Lake Health Centre began implementing the routine offer of HIV testing in the spring of 2014. Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre in Burns Lake and GR Baker Hospital in Quesnel are in the preparatory stages to begin offering HIV testing.

This article was originally published in September 2014 in Northern Health’s new internal magazine.

Sam Milligan

About Sam Milligan

Sam is the regional health systems navigator in Northern Health’s blood borne pathogens (BBP) services team. In his role, he provides education and consultation services to communities and programs across the north. Some of his responsibilities include improving community access to HIV & HCV treatment, increase testing for HIV/HCV, and provide current practice education to staff, physicians, and community members. If not at work or talking about work, Sam can be found in the realms of adventures with his two young sons or hanging out with the most gorgeous woman on the planet: his wife.

Share

World AIDS Day

Portrait of woman wearing shirt that says: "If you care, be HIV aware"

If you care, be HIV aware. For more information about HIV/AIDS and safe sex practices, visit your local health unit or Opt Clinic.

Today is World AIDS Day. For the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, World AIDS Day is a chance to get everyone involved in combating HIV/AIDS through the 90-90-90 strategy. The globally-recognized, made-in-B.C. 90-90-90 goals are:

  • 90% of those infected with HIV are aware of their status.
  • 90% of those diagnosed with HIV receive treatment.
  • 90% of those being treated have undetectable viral loads.

With routine HIV testing gaining momentum across northern B.C., we are on our way to achieving these goals.

World AIDS Day is also a time to think about prevention. Anyone can become infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including young people. If you are considering having sexual relations or are sexually active, which includes both oral sex and intercourse (vaginal and anal), World AIDS Day is a good reminder to have a “sex talk.”

Visit your local health unit if you have questions about sex or are considering having sexual intercourse. Youth who want to be tested for STIs can visit their family doctor or they can visit the local Opt clinic, which offers sexual health services including STI testing, birth control counselling, and low cost contraceptives and supplies.

In addition to combating HIV, Sandra Sasaki, education manager and positive prevention coordinator at Positive Living North, reminds everyone that they can also play a role in combating discrimination this World AIDS Day by participating in local events. Vigils and awareness walks are taking place across northern B.C. this week. Visit Positive Living North to find an event to show your support and to honour those living with HIV and those we have lost to AIDS.

In Prince George, this year’s vigil will be held December 1 at the Fire Pit Cultural Drop-In Centre (1120 Third Avenue) from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information about HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, and practising safe sex, visit the Northern Health HIV/AIDS information source, hiv101.ca.

 

Sam Milligan

About Sam Milligan

Sam is the regional health systems navigator in Northern Health’s blood borne pathogens (BBP) services team. In his role, he provides education and consultation services to communities and programs across the north. Some of his responsibilities include improving community access to HIV & HCV treatment, increase testing for HIV/HCV, and provide current practice education to staff, physicians, and community members. If not at work or talking about work, Sam can be found in the realms of adventures with his two young sons or hanging out with the most gorgeous woman on the planet: his wife.

Share

World Hepatitis Day 2014: Learn the facts about Hepatitis C

blood test, Heptatitis C

You take a simple blood test to test for HCV.

Monday, July 28th was World Hepatitis Day, so Northern Health would like to take this opportunity to share some important information about this chronic disease.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. There are many types of hepatitis viruses: hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, with more likely to be confirmed. The most common types in British Columbia are hepatitis A, B, and C.

Hepatitis C (HCV) is the most common of these three, so let’s focus on it.

From 1995-2012, there were 4,277 cases of HCV infections reported across Northern Health, with men accounting for 63 per cent of those cases. In 2012, there were 122 new cases of HCV in Northern Health — 67 per cent were men. The groups with the highest rates of infection are men aged 40-59 and women aged 25-29 and 40-59. Northern Health HCV prevalence in 2012 was 43.8 infections per 100,000 people, just above the provincial prevalence of 40.8 per 100,000.

How is HCV spread?
HCV is spread by direct contact with the blood of an infected person, through sharing injection drug equipment and other drug use paraphernalia, accidental exposure through needle sticks, and, prior to 1990, blood transfusions. Low risk activities for HCV exposure include skin-piercing procedures with non-sterile equipment, sexual intercourse, and prenatal transmission.

What are the symptoms of HCV?
Common symptoms include fever, tiredness, jaundice (yellow skin or eyes), abdominal pain, dark urine, loss of appetite and nausea. Some people living with HCV feel fine and have no symptoms, but HCV can be a life-threatening disease so it’s important to know your status.

IS HCV treatable?
YES! For some people who get HCV, the virus disappears on its own, usually within the first six months of infection. However, for most people, the HCV virus does not go away. Treatment is available, with cure rates of up to 80 per cent for certain genotypes. What’s a genotype? It’s the genetic makeup of the virus and, for HCV, there are six distinct genotypes. Some of them have subgroups — so it’s best to ask your physician for more details.

How do I test for HCV?
You take a simple blood test for HCV, much like the HIV test. So if you’re offered an HIV test by your physician, don’t hesitate to request the HCV test, too.

For more information, please visit HepCBC at hepcbc.ca.

Did you do anything on Monday to raise awareness about Hepatitis?

Sam Milligan

About Sam Milligan

Sam is the regional health systems navigator in Northern Health’s blood borne pathogens (BBP) services team. In his role, he provides education and consultation services to communities and programs across the north. Some of his responsibilities include improving community access to HIV & HCV treatment, increase testing for HIV/HCV, and provide current practice education to staff, physicians, and community members. If not at work or talking about work, Sam can be found in the realms of adventures with his two young sons or hanging out with the most gorgeous woman on the planet: his wife.

Share