Canada: Rates of Chlamydia High Among Inuit Youth: Study in Remote Arctic Community Raises Alarm
January 6, 2006
One of the most intensive surveys of Inuit sexual health found a chlamydia infection rate of 15 percent among those tested. Young women and teens were the most likely to be infected.
Audrey Steenbeek, a University of British Columbia (UBC) PhD graduate in health care and epidemiology, undertook the study after observing, as a nurse on Baffin Island, unusually high rates of gynecological and obstetrical problems among Inuit women. She wondered if these were related to chlamydia infection, which can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, tubal or ectopic pregnancies, premature birth, infections in newborns, and an increase in the risk of human papillomavirus infection. The Inuit-governed Nunavut territory has some of Canada's highest cervical cancer rates.
In the community studied, whose name was not disclosed, Steenbeek spent four years interviewing 181 Inuit ages 15-65 about their sexual behavior and testing them in five rounds for chlamydia and gonorrhea. Though none tested positive for gonorrhea, Steenbeek found 35 cases of chlamydia; some Inuit were re-infected after treatment.
About 1 percent of Canadians ages 15-25 were infected by chlamydia in 2002, according to most recent Health Canada data.
Many of the Inuit youths surveyed engaged in casual sex fueled by alcohol, peer pressure and drugs, said Steenbeek. In addition, some youths reported multiple partners and unwanted sex.
"Many of them had never even heard of chlamydia or HIV," said Steenbeck. She did not test for HIV, which is not believed to be circulating in the remote region. She believes the high chlamydia infection rate observed is common to many isolated northern communities.
Dr. Mark Tyndall, a UBC infectious-diseases specialist who supervised the study, said it suggests the need for more proactive and effective sexual health and education programming in the North.
01.03.2006; Margaret Munro
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.