Local students go after peeing record

Ottawa post-secondary students hoping to break a world record for urine-sample testing while raising awareness about sexually transmitted infections fell short of the Guinness goal but accomplished the educational objective.

The Ottawa Public Health Board had encouraged students from the city’s four universities and colleges to take part in a March 29 Guinness World Record attempt for the most STI urine tests conducted in a single 24-hour period.

In total, 914 tests were conducted in the record attempt. However, because they were not all done in one location, Ottawa’s “Pee to See” campaign did not establish a new global benchmark for urine testing.

“We thought, ‘How fun would this be?’” Ottawa Public Health project officer Christiane Bouchard said prior to the record attempt. “We were hoping to create a hype on campuses and on social media about sexual health awareness.”

The current official record still stands at 502 tests in one day and has been held by the University of Calgary since 2014.

This Ottawa test blitz was one in a series of attempts by Canadian universities to chase the world record for testing STIs. Western University in London, Ont., appeared to have broken the three-year-old record in February when 813 tests done in one day, but the Guinness Book of World Records did not recognize the achievement officially.

Sofia Rocher, the digital coordinator for Guinness World Records, had also said that Ottawa’s record attempt would only be approved only if each student was tested for at least two sexually transmitted infections.

In Ottawa, the two diseases to look out for in urine testing are chlamydia and gonorrhea – the two most common STI infections for young people.

Both infections include a possible burning sensation, itching and pain in the groin area for men and women.

Bouchard says that most youth don’t experience any signs of either STI, so that’s why getting tested is important.

“STIs don’t discriminate – if you’re poor, black, Asian or not. We talk about sex but we don’t talk about sex,” she says. “It’s part of a normal sexual life to get tested, and that’s part of what this campaign is trying to say.”

The campaign comes as the rate of positive STI testing has been rising across the country. The spike for young people aged 15-24 has been noticeable in the nation’s capital in particular, according to Ottawa Public Health.

In the last year alone, there were a reported 3,387 positive tests in the Ottawa region, up from 2,909 in 2014. Of these cases, 80 percent were positive tests for chlamydia.

Bouchard says rates have been going up since the new year, with more diagnoses than expected for both of those common STIs. She adds that its not clear why the spike is happening.

A possible explanation for the increase, according to Alex Mckay, the executive director of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, is the failure to use a condom.

“Young people enter relationships thinking that they will be long-term, so they don’t use a condom for contraception. But then those relationships don’t last as long as they think,” he says. “The condom is still key to prevent infection from partner to partner.”

For others, the explanation is more complicated than forgetting to practice safe sex. Khaled Salam, executive director of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, says that the stigma around STIs keeps certain members of society from coming forward and getting tested.

“Society sometimes associates STIs with the gay or black community. Until we get rid of homophobia and racism in our society, people will continue to feel unsafe about getting tested for STIs,” Salam says. “But if you have an STI, you have to get tested. It’s as simple as that.”

Bouchard and Mckay agree that the increase in positive tests could also mean an increase in the number of people being tested for STIs in the city.

For any students who tested positive at the ‘Pee to See’ event, Ottawa Public Health will be contacting them to get started on antibiotic treatment.