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Research Week at BCCDC – highlighting sexual health research

In November 2012, the BCCDC hosted their annual Research Week, providing a forum for teams within BCCDC to share the results of their public health research.  Below are some highlights from the sexual health-related research that was presented. For a complete summary of each research project, please view the attached poster presentations, located at the end of this article under Additional Resources.

  • Providing better sexual health programs: Travis Hottes and colleagues reported findings from a study that showed people who engage in activities that put them at high risk for HIV infection are not testing on a regular basis.  They looked at the amount of time between the last negative HIV test and the first positive HIV test among people newly diagnosed with HIV.  They found that while some people appear to be testing frequently, half of the newly positive people hadn’t tested for almost 2 years before their first HIV positive test and for some the interval was up to 5 years or longer.  This suggests that interventions for people at risk of getting HIV to encourage more frequent HIV testing can result in earlier diagnosis.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) screening: Important research related to HPV screening is being done both locally (BC) and globally (Uganda, Africa) to identify women at high risk of getting cervical cancer and to inform the best way of introducing HPV screening to communities.  Gina Ogilvie and colleagues identified women who are at the greatest risk of having high-risk HPV (the types most likely to cause cervical cancer).  This research has shown that education campaigns for HPV screening in Uganda should be aimed at women in their early thirties who are divorced and/or who have HIV, while similar education campaigns in BC should be aimed at women in their early twenties.  The BC data will also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the publicly-funded HPV vaccination program in BC.
  • Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV):  Monika Lindegger and colleagues reported on an investigation into an increase in the number of LGV cases in BC since May 2011 among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.  While in part related to changes in testing practices, LGV may also be increasing, which is consistent with increases reported in other regions of the world such as Spain and the UK.  LGV can mimic other diseases and cause serious health problems if not detected, and raising clinical suspicion among providers who are more likely to encounter LGV patients is important in order to reduce the serious consequences of the disease.
  • Non-traditional sexual health care settings: Kam Sandhu and colleagues reported the results of a survey from the BCCDC Bute Street STI clinic, which primarily provides sexual health care to men who have sex with men.  From this survey, we learned that clinical expertise, opportunities to obtain care anonymously, and the fact that the clinic is LGBTQ friendly, all play an important role in why patients attend this clinic.  This highlights the importance of low threshold clinics for individuals who may not access main stream STI clinics.

Public health research that can be translated into sexual health programming, such as the studies mention above, is fundamental to the mandate of BCCDC and significantly contributes to disease prevention and control in British Columbia.