Health of­fi­cials warn of syphilis out­break in Al­berta

The Prince George Citizen - - News - Daniela GERMANO

EDMONTON — Syphilis rates not seen in Al­berta since 1948 have prompted the prov­ince’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer to de­clare an out­break of the dis­ease and en­cour­age people to get tested for it.

A to­tal of 1,536 cases of in­fec­tious syphilis were re­ported in 2018 com­pared with 161 in 2014 – al­most a ten­fold in­crease, said Dr. Deena Hin­shaw, Al­berta’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer.

“And it’s getting worse,” Hin­shaw said Tuesday.

“From 2017 to 2018, the num­ber of cases jumped 187 per cent and we are ex­pect­ing even higher num­bers for 2019.”

She added that the prov­ince has seen sim­i­lar in­creases in rates of con­gen­i­tal syphilis, in which the in­fec­tion is spread from a mother to her un­born child.

“It is very im­por­tant for any­one who is preg­nant to seek early pre­na­tal care and get tested for syphilis dur­ing preg­nancy,” she said.

“Con­gen­i­tal syphilis is a dis­abling and life-threat­en­ing dis­ease. But if di­ag­nosed and treated early dur­ing preg­nancy, the mother and baby can both have bet­ter health out­comes.”

Hin­shaw said that con­gen­i­tal syphilis was rare in Al­berta be­fore the re­cent out­break, but in the last two years 21 cases have been re­ported. A pro­vin­cial out­break co-or­di­na­tion com­mit­tee has been set up, she said.

It will work over the next three months to de­ter­mine how to in­crease test­ing for sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases and re­duce the over­all num­ber of syphilis cases.

Hin­shaw said she couldn’t com­ment on how Al­berta com­pares with the rest of the coun­try be­cause other ju­ris­dic­tions have not re­leased re­cent syphilis fig­ures.

“This is a trend we are seeing across Canada and around the world, so syphilis cases are sharply ris­ing in many ju­ris­dic­tions, not just our own,” Hin­shaw said.

Dr. Laura McDougall, se­nior med­i­cal of­fi­cer for Al­berta Health Ser­vices, said those num­bers could also be skewed by the volume of test­ing.

“There is no doubt at all that we are in an out­break sit­u­a­tion with a case load that is con­cern­ing and alarm­ing that re­quires ac­tion. But it is challengin­g to look at comparison­s,” McDougall said at Tuesday’s news con­fer­ence.

Mean­while, fig­ures from Al­berta Health Ser­vices show that al­most two-thirds of syphilis cases in Al­berta were re­ported in the Edmonton area.

The Edmonton zone saw 977 cases in 2018 com­pared to 206 in Cal­gary.

There were 88 cases in cen­tral Al­berta, 208 cases in north­ern Al­berta and 31 cases in the south­ern part of the prov­ince.

Hin­shaw said the prov­ince’s out­break com­mit­tee will be look­ing into why Edmonton has the most re­ported cases, as well as why the most af­fected age group is people be­tween the ages of 15 and 29.

“Ul­ti­mately, when an in­fec­tion gets into a par­tic­u­lar net­work of people who are con­nected, it can spread quite quickly,” she said.

Al­berta Health Ser­vices says the best way to pro­tect against sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions such as syphilis is con­sis­tent con­dom use.

It’s also sug­gested that sex­u­ally ac­tive people should get tested ev­ery three to six months if they have a sex­ual part­ner with a known STI, have a new sex­ual part­ner or mul­ti­ple or anony­mous sex­ual part­ners, have pre­vi­ous his­tory of an STI di­ag­no­sis or have been sex­u­ally as­saulted.

Like other STIs, the symp­toms of syphilis may not be ob­vi­ous. Hin­shaw said syphilis could in­fect the brain, heart and eyes if it is left un­treated.

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