Con­gen­i­tal syphilis found in six new­borns, of­fi­cials say

Edmonton Journal - - CITY - KEITH GEREIN kgerein@post­media.com twit­ter.com/kei­thgerein

Al­berta has recorded six cases of life-threat­en­ing con­gen­i­tal syphilis in new­born ba­bies this year, pub­lic health lead­ers an­nounced Tues­day amid a wors­en­ing out­break of sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions around the prov­ince.

“If un­treated, this in­fec­tion can cause de­formed bones, jaun­dice, brain and nerve dam­age, menin­gi­tis and other se­ri­ous health prob­lems in the child,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, deputy chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health for Al­berta Health.

Con­gen­i­tal syphilis oc­curs when a preg­nant woman who has con­tracted in­fec­tious syphilis passes the bac­te­ria onto her un­born child.

Twenty-five Al­berta ba­bies were born with the dis­ease be­tween 2005 and 2010, nine of whom died. The last con­firmed case in the prov­ince was in 2011, though a prob­a­ble case was also iden­ti­fied in De­cem­ber 2015.

Hinshaw said the six ba­bies be­long to four moth­ers. Two of those moth­ers screened neg­a­tively for syphilis early in preg­nancy, one mother was not screened at all and one ar­rived in Al­berta in her last trimester of preg­nancy.

None of the in­fants has died. Hinshaw de­clined to pro­vide any fur­ther in­for­ma­tion about the cases, cit­ing pri­vacy rules.

Health lead­ers had feared a reap­pear­ance of con­gen­i­tal syphilis in Al­berta ever since in­fec­tious syphilis cases started reach­ing out­break lev­els in the spring of 2015. The dis­ease has showed no signs of slow­ing down, as cases con­tin­ued to climb through both 2016 and 2017.

Al­berta recorded 369 syphilis cases as of Hal­loween this year, putting the prov­ince on course to sur­pass last year’s to­tal of 410.

Gon­or­rhea rates have also sky­rock­eted to lev­els not seen since the late 1980s.

A to­tal of 3,869 in­fec­tions had been recorded by the end of Oc­to­ber this year, al­ready higher than last year’s tally of 3,707.

The high­est caseloads have been in the Ed­mon­ton re­gion.

When the out­break was first an­nounced, pub­lic health of­fi­cials ini­tially linked it to the emer­gence of so­cial me­dia sites used for anony­mous sex­ual hookups. They vowed to use ad­ver­tise­ments on those same so­cial me­dia ser­vices to raise aware­ness.

AHS said Tues­day the cam­paign met with some suc­cess, driv­ing traf­fic to the sexgerms.com web­site and prompt­ing more peo­ple to get tested. That, in turn, pro­duced more pos­i­tives and pushed up the in­fec­tion rates.

How­ever, progress from that cam­paign even­tu­ally stalled.

“The num­bers keep go­ing up so we have to try to do some­thing dif­fer­ent,” said Dr. Gerry Predy, se­nior med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health for AHS.

The new strat­egy in­cludes more col­lab­o­ra­tion with com­mu­nity agen­cies who al­ready work with pop­u­la­tions at risk of sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions, in­clud­ing street-in­volved youth or peo­ple with­out sta­ble hous­ing, he said.

Al­berta Health Ser­vices of­fi­cials say that while ef­forts to raise aware­ness of sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted ill­nesses made progress when the out­break was first an­nounced in 2015, the cam­paign’s ef­fec­tive­ness even­tu­ally stalled.

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