Syphilis is a ma­jor prob­lem in Al­berta

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - NEWS - By Lena Derie-Gille­spie

Let’s talk about syphilis. Ah­hhh, syphilis. This dis­ease is some­how both a source of com­plete fas­ci­na­tion and ab­ject frus­tra­tion to me. In all se­ri­ous­ness, syphilis is some­thing we ac­tu­ally need to talk about now.

Syphilis is cur­rently at out­break lev­els in Al­berta and the im­pact it can have on chil­dren born with con­gen­i­tal syphilis (when the un­born child gets the dis­ease from its mother) can be se­vere. Although there are risk fac­tors that may be more heav­ily rep­re­sented in pa­tients with con­firmed syphilis, do not kid your­self - if you have sex you can have syphilis. Pe­riod.

In Al­berta, we screen ev­ery preg­nant woman for syphilis and be­lieve me, ev­ery year cases are iden­ti­fied. How­ever, if screen­ing is de­layed or if peo­ple are re-in­fected, syphilis can be passed on to chil­dren in utero and in Al­berta since 2015, more than 25 ba­bies have been born with con­gen­i­tal syphilis.

It isn’t just ba­bies who can suffer; syphilis can lead to neu­rosyphilis, a con­di­tion that can mimic de­men­tia and also cause paral­y­sis and blind­ness. What makes this so frus­trat­ing is that syphilis is both pre­ventable and cur­able. With early di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment we can keep peo­ple healthy. And, as it is with any STI (sex­u­ally-trans­mit­ted in­fec­tion), treat­ment is pre­ven­tion; when we cure one per­son we stop the spread to oth­ers down the line.

So why is syphilis mak­ing a resur­gence? Unlike many other in­fec­tions, an­tibi­otic re­sis­tance is not at fault here - although it does re­main a sig­nif­i­cant con­cern for other STIs such as gon­or­rhea. Syphilis has re­mained sen­si­tive to peni­cillin through­out his­tory (an in­jectable long-last­ing form is used for treat­ment) and we should thank our lucky stars for this fact as it gives us the chance to at­tack this is­sue.

Then why so much syphilis? A few hy­pothe­ses likely all con­trib­ute. One is that peo­ple are lax about us­ing condoms, which is pos­si­bly due to the fact that although HIV re­mains a se­ri­ous and im­por­tant health con­di­tion, it need not be a death sen­tence as it was in the past.

Peo­ple with HIV can live very healthy lives with ap­pro­pri­ate treat­ment -- which is awe­some -- but it’s giv­ing some a mis­guided sense of safety, so they’re not us­ing condoms.

Re­mem­ber this: condoms are one of the most amaz­ing, ef­fec­tive and in­ex­pen­sive harm­re­duc­tion aids ever de­vel­oped. Se­ri­ously, a con­dom can save your life and you can find them for free in many places! Amaz­ing.

Mov­ing past my mad re­spect for condoms, next up in im­pact may be so­cial me­dia and plat­forms that al­low for anony­mous sex con­nec­tions. Although I am try­ing to re­main sex-pos­i­tive, such con­nec­tions may not be based on the sound­est de­ci­sion-mak­ing and from my per­spec­tive as a pub­lic health physi­cian, the anony­mous aspect of these con­nec­tions can se­ri­ously im­pair our abil­ity to track and treat in­fected part­ners.

As such, the dis­ease is al­lowed to spread like wild­fire, just like those school sex-ed­u­ca­tion games told you it would! Fi­nally, there’s the no­tion that no one ever wants to think it will hap­pen to them….but it can. So talk to your health care provider and get tested.

If you want to find a sex­ual health clinic that of­fers test­ing, check here:­tingtested but your fam­ily doc­tor is a great re­source as well. And be open with your health­care provider. I was taught to think that ‘every­one does ev­ery­thing.’ You can’t shock us - sex is a part of life, but just don’t let your sex­ual ac­tiv­i­ties hurt you or those de­pend­ing on you.

Dr. Lena Derie-Gille­spie is Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer of Health in the South Zone. She can be reached by e-mail, lena. Derie-Gille­[email protected]


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