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. (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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