When it comes to STD testing, fun is probably not the first word that comes to mind.
Actually the words dreadful, nerve-racking, or uncomfortable are perhaps more appropriate.
But local doctor Marisa Collins hopes to change that with a new program she will launch next year. The program, which has yet to be given a name, will bundle free Chlamydia testing with a catchy education campaign targeting those aged 20 to 29.
“The logic behind this pilot program is that Chlamydia is the most common, treatable STI (sexually transmitted infection) in Canada — but most people with it don’t know they have it. So the question becomes ‘How do you find it in order to diagnose and treat it?’” said Collins.
“If people don’t have symptoms or aren’t already seeking regular testing, how do we reach them? Well, if they won’t come to us, we’ll go to them,” she said.
Collins is one of two scientists who have recently launched studies in Whistler that look into sexual behaviour and STIs.
The other is Jennifer Matthews from the University of Alberta, who is investigating how drugs and alcohol affect the behaviour of young men in Whistler.
“I am interested in hearing from guys about their opinions and thoughts on sex and substance use,” said Matthews.
“Most sexual health education does not address sex under the influence, and neither does most drug education. I am hoping to fine more effective ways of educating around both of these issues,” she said.
Both women chose Whistler for their studies based on the resort town’s unusual demographic: a large number of young people.
“Whistler has a proportionally large population of transient, at-risk, young adults, who may not be accessing sexual health services effectively,” said Collins.
“Based on census data, 6.2 per cent of the population in the province is 20–29. In Whistler, it is 16 per cent of the population. And that is just the census. That does not even include all seasonal workers and non-Canadians,” said Collins.
She added that the town’s apparent high numbers of STIs, including Chlamydia, are not necessarily indicative of skyrocketing rates. They may simple be a reality of having lots of young people around.
Collins hopes the program will help diagnose cases of Chlamydia that would otherwise go untreated. This could help reduce the “pool of infection”, or the number of people who do not know they have Chlamydia and may infect others.