Healthy Living in the North

The story of HIV is changing

Stickers with HIV awareness messaging

You can live with HIV if you act to know your status and deal with it. Even if you don’t believe you are at risk, find out. Know for sure. Get tested.

Earlier this month, you may remember a news story featuring actor Charlie Sheen, who revealed that he is HIV-positive. With World AIDS Day upon us, Sheen’s revelation is a reminder that that the story of HIV is changing.

It used to be that a lot of heterosexual people thought they got a free pass on HIV because it was seen as something you only had to worry about if you were gay or an intravenous (IV) drug user.

The way people viewed HIV – and the way that too many still view it – is coloured by fear. We all want to be OK so we look for ways to spin our thinking: “If it’s transmitted through a kind of sex I don’t have, then I’m OK. If it’s transmitted through IV drug use, then I’m OK.” This spin, however, feeds into prejudice and discrimination against those believed to be at risk and it gives many of us a false sense of security.

It may be because of these false beliefs that one of the best protections against HIV infection is not used as often as it should be. According to Statistics Canada, in 2009-10, more than three in ten young adult Canadians (15 to 24 years) did not use a condom the last time they had sex.

The truth is HIV is unquestionably transmitted through heterosexual sex. According to the STOP Report published in 2015, in B.C. between 2010 and 2014, heterosexual transmission accounted for 25% of all new HIV cases. In northern B.C., 39% of all new HIV cases were among heterosexual people. Another truth is that while high-risk sex with multiple partners may increase the likelihood of contracting HIV, it only takes being unsafe one time.

There’s another important piece to Charlie’s story, though. In an interview, he said that since he was diagnosed four years ago, he has been consistently taking antiretroviral medications. His doctor verified that he has a suppressed viral load. The current state of HIV treatment has advanced to the point where someone who has achieved suppression and maintains treatment can look forward to living a normal lifespan and is not a risk to transmit HIV to others.

Charlie Sheen’s story shows that you can live with HIV if you act to know your status and deal with it. Even if you don’t believe you are at risk, find out. Know for sure. Get tested.


Editor’s note: This article was co-written by Andrew Burton & Sam Milligan. Learn more about our blog authors.

 

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Breaking the taboo – let’s talk ED!

Francois Lake

We know that ED can be an uncomfortable topic, so Jim’s provided a picture of beautiful and soothing Francois Lake while he has a frank conversation about prevention and treatment.

It’s Men’s Health Week so I thought I’d write about a health topic that carries a big taboo amongst us men. Because what better time to get the conversation going?

I always seem to be writing about worrying things and this time is no different. For our sexual health, we should all be aware of it and despite how the media sometimes portrays this, if you have it, then it’s no joke.

It is erectile dysfunction (ED) and it carries a heavy taboo. ED is a fairly common condition in males as they age, but is also a complex matter that can be affected by numerous lifestyle factors. It is these that we can try to change so let’s take a look at them.

Alcohol, drug use and smoking can all lead to erectile dysfunction.

Obesity also has an impact and a good rule to keep in mind is basically, if your belly is too big and you can’t see your tackle, then that’s a problem.

It is important to know that hypertension and diabetes are also causes, along with atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the arteries. ED can be an early indication that all is not well with your veins and arteries and can be a sign that heart disease may be down the road. A good reason to see a physician and have a checkup!

Given the taboo – and how special our, ahem, tackle, is for many men – I think ED is every guy’s worst nightmare! The psychological causes of erectile dysfunction can be every bit as distressing as physical ones and ED can be a symptom of depression and anxiety.

The incorporation of a healthy diet with an active lifestyle as well as stopping smoking can help mitigate some of this and there is some evidence that aerobic exercise may benefit those with ED, too.

In fact, living an active life and getting enough exercise in combination with a healthy diet can go a long way to helping with both ED and all of these causative issues. It can also improve your health in general as well as your performance. It’s not a quick fix, but it’s really a healthy option.

There are other causes such as nerve damage or low levels of testosterone. Your physician can run a battery of tests to see what the cause is and let you know if medication might be on the agenda. The main thing about all these things is to talk them over with your doctor and partner. This article is too short to be able to cover all the angles, so I’d suggest HealthLink BC if you want some more information.

ED is a serious condition that can make you miserable. But take it from me: you are not a loser, you are not alone, and it’s not the end of the world. The good news is that there is treatment available and, more importantly in some ways, know that you can take steps to prevent it by modifying your lifestyle!

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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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. (Sam no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Youth urged to use common sense and practise safe sex

Coasters with HIV awareness messages

Anyone can become infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. Know your status, take precautions, and get the information you need before having sexual relations.

Anyone can become infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including young people. That’s why it’s so important to take precautions before having sex, advises Shannon Froehlich, manager of support services at Positive Living North (PLN) in Prince George.

Froehlich said there are many tips young people can follow if they’re considering having sexual relations, which includes both oral sex and intercourse (vaginal and anal).

“Abstinence is the safest approach. But if that’s not an option, young people should use a condom and lubrication every time they have sex,” said Froehlich. “And young people seem to consider oral sex to be safe sex — but they should be advised that it’s not.”

Just as important, she said, is having a conversation with your partner before having sex. “And don’t drink or do drugs beforehand to prevent careless actions,” said Froehlich.

Young people in northern B.C. are encouraged to visit their local health unit if they 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.

Froehlich said PLN staff can supply youths with condoms and have conversations with them about sex — which will be kept anonymous.

“We can also share information about different STIs, and give them brochures that they can take to their partner to have a discussion about sex,” she said.

PLN, a not-for-profit HIV/AIDS/HCV organization, is a Northern Health community partner, and was a key participant in Northern Health’s award-winning STOP HIV/AIDS education and awareness project. PLN can be reached at three locations in northern B.C.: Prince George at 250-562-1172; Smithers at 250-877-0042; and Dawson Creek at 250-782-5202.

Visit hiv101.ca for more information and to learn about online youth educational options.

More information:

This article was first published in A Healthier You, a joint publication of Northern Health and the Prince George Citizen.

Joanne MacDonald

About Joanne MacDonald

Joanne MacDonald is a communications officer at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects, including the STOP HIV/AIDS program and integrated health services. Prior to joining Northern Health, Joanne worked in the journalism and communications fields in the lower mainland, Whitehorse and Ottawa. She keeps active by taking Zumba and spinning classes. She lives with her husband in Prince George. (Joanne no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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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. (Sam no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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February 14th: Sexual and Reproductive Health Day

sexual and reproductive health dayThis Friday is February 14th. Do you know what day that is? Of course you do! It’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Day in Canada, as recognized by the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health. Sexual and reproductive health covers a wide range of topics, including awareness of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Over the past 10 years, Northern Health has seen and treated an increasing amount of STIs and this trend is likely to continue unless we take more precautions. Here are some facts about STIs in the north:

  • STIs affect both men and women
  • Almost half of STIs occur in people under the age of 25
  • There are at least 20 different kinds of STI
  • Some STIs are more common, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and human papillomavirus virus (HPV)

An STI is not something that you want to deal with, so it’s important to know how to recognize their symptoms, how to prevent them, and where to get testing and treatment.

Symptoms can vary for each STI, but here are some of the general ones to look out for:

  • Sores or blisters on the genitals or around the anus or mouth
  • Irregular growths (warts) in genital area
  • Genital itching
  • Pain with intercourse, urination or having a bowel movement
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting after sexual intercourse
  • Rash
  • Pain or swelling of glands in groin area

The best way to prevent getting an STI is to use a condom every time you engage in intercourse. Getting tested regularly is also important. You can do so at the health unit or at your doctor’s office. Regular testing is vital because some people have no symptoms at all. You should get tested if:

  • You have any symptoms
  • Your partner has been diagnosed with an STI or has symptoms
  • You have started a new relationship
  • You or your partner have not been tested in the last year

An HPV infection can lead to serious health problems, including genital warts and cervical cancer.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea and are both treatable. Treatment is free at sexual health clinics throughout the north. Treating HPV depends on the type of infection (there are over 100 kinds). For more information on treatment and testing, please visit your local health unit.

Fortunately two vaccines are available in Canada to prevent HPV infections, Gardasil™ and Cervarix™. They are provided at no cost to many girls and women. You can get them at your local health unit, doctor’s office, and many pharmacies. For more information on HPV and other vaccines and eligibility, please visit Immunize BC.

Kim Garrison

About Kim Garrison

Kim is the Public Health Communications Liaison Nurse and works out of Mackenzie. She has a background in public health, and is a graduate of UNBC. She was born and raised in Prince George, and recently moved to Mackenzie with her young family. Her favorite thing about Mackenzie so far is Morfee Lake, which is about five minutes away from her house! She keeps busy chasing after her little ones, and enjoys getting outside when it’s not too cold out!

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What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas

The welcome to Las Vegas sign is an invitation for many people to release their inhibitions.

For many, this sign is an invitation to release their inhibitions.

I went to Vegas with some friends last year and it was actually pretty good (which is a Scot’s way of saying awesome!). We took in many great shows and even saw the Chieftains, who are still going strong after almost 40 years! Our trip wasn’t quite like the movie The Hangover, but we had our moments. It was a brilliant time.

Vegas is glitz to the extreme. But underneath that shine is a dark side that can’t be ignored. It’s called “Sin City” for a reason – actually several reasons: gambling, drugs and alcohol, and sex – which Vegas is riddled with. Whether you’re going to Vegas or any other exciting destination, it’s often easy for people to slip into some bad habits while on vacation. After my Vegas vacation, I started thinking about the dangers of the “darker sides” of vacations, like slipping back into tobacco addictions, or bringing a new addiction home. So, here are some helpful tips for avoiding some of the things that give Vegas its rather scandalous reputation, but these tips are really relevant to any vacation. No matter where you go, keep in mind that you’ll be going home soon. Each topic is linked to helpful resources for your reference.

Gambling – The slot machines and other games are unavoidable. From the time you check into your room they’re everywhere. Remember, gambling is an addiction. Don’t go overboard. Consider setting a budget ahead of time and stick to it. I managed to stick to about $30.

Drugs and alcohol – Both addictive items are plentiful on many vacations and will drain your bank account, as well as that of your family and friends in a hurry if either becomes a problem. This includes tobacco use; a vacation from the snow doesn’t have to mean a vacation from quitting.

Sex – Some people often think being on vacation is the perfect time to loosen their inhibitions. But sexually transmitted infections don’t take vacations. Do yourself a favour and get educated on the dangers of unsafe sex.

There are many great events that happen in Vegas; I found the fountains at Bellagio to be magical, and luckily I avoided all of the dangers above. Some of these events should, no doubt, stay in Vegas. You don’t want to bring home a whopping credit card bill, a reemergence of an old addiction, or something more novel, like a STI. Don’t forget, these tips extend beyond Vegas to whatever sunny destination you might be visiting during the snowy season.

Happy winter vacation.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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