Syphilis cases jump in central Alberta

Province looking at testing and public awareness

Central Alberta experienced a 266 per cent increase in syphilis cases last year.

Alberta Health Services’ central zone had 88 cases of infectious syphilis and contributed to the provincial government declaring a provincewide outbreak.

“It goes to show we really need to open up the conversation about testing. Encourage each other to be tested if we’re sexually active,” said Aisley Miles, harm reduction program manager at Turning Point.

The north zone had a 324 per cent increase in cases in 2018. Edmonton experienced a 305 per cent increase. The south zone witnessed a 138 per cent increase, and Calgary had a seven per cent spike.

A total of 1,563 cases of infectious syphilis were reported in Alberta in 2018, compared to 161 in 2014, almost a tenfold increase.

Over the next three months, a provincial outbreak co-ordination committee will develop strategy and actions to increase testing for sexually transmitted diseases and promote public awareness to reduce the number of syphilis cases.

Miles said a lot of people aren’t aware that syphilis can be spread through skin-to-skin contact when a sore is present.

“Even though people are thinking they’re protecting themselves through using condoms, it’s not going to necessarily protect you from the spread of something like syphilis.”

She said some sexually transmitted blood borne infections such as syphilis can have no symptoms, and that’s why testing is so important.

Turning Point refers its clients to health clinics for syphilis testing, but would like to offer testing on a walk-in basis.

“We have access to a couple populations that don’t necessarily go to other places to access services.”

If not treated, syphilis may cause blindness, paralysis, deafness, brain and heart disease, and mental health problems.

Congenital syphilis, which occurs when a child is born to a mother with syphilis, is a severe, disabling and life-threatening disease.

Alberta had 22 congenital syphilis cases between 2014 and 2018.

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