FILE - A health promotion worker with Turning Point distributes harm-reduction supplies in 2020. The syphilis crisis has gotten worse, particularly in Central Zone, where there was a 57 per cent increase according to a new report. (Photo by Advocate staff)

FILE - A health promotion worker with Turning Point distributes harm-reduction supplies in 2020. The syphilis crisis has gotten worse, particularly in Central Zone, where there was a 57 per cent increase according to a new report. (Photo by Advocate staff)

Syphilis crisis in central Alberta continues

Gradual increase in stillborn deaths and congenital syphilis

A new annual report shows sexually transmitted blood-borne infection cases reported in Alberta dropped 11 per cent, but the syphilis crisis has gotten worse, particularly in Central Zone, where there was a 57 per cent increase.

Overall, a total of 23,029 new sexually transmitted blood-borne infections (STBBI) cases were reported in Alberta in 2020. That included 2,509 syphilis cases, which was a nine per cent increase from 2019.

“The rise of syphilis is pretty alarming,” said Mitchell Danser, Turning Point outreach worker. Just 20 years ago, Alberta had only 17 cases.

Most syphilitic stillborn deaths, and cases of mothers passing syphilis on to their babies during pregnancy, occur in Edmonton and the North Health Zone, but Central Zone has also seen a gradual increase.

According to the Dec. 1 report by the Alberta Community Council on HIV, community-based agencies in Alberta reported 143,241 unique client interactions related to STBBIs and 34,012 of those were reported by central Alberta’s harm reduction agency Turning Point.

“We recognize that some individuals don’t have the awareness or capacity to pursue STBBI supports on their own accord, so we’re continuously seeking new and inventive opportunities to engage clients and our community regarding their sexual wellbeing, providing resources and referrals as needed,” said Danser.

Related:

Turning Point Society to provide HIV self-test kits to Red Deer residents

Community-based agencies, like Turning Point, say significant work is still needed to fill public health gaps.

“Priority populations, such as young people, those who use drugs, and those experiencing homelessness, typically have greater difficulty accessing STBBI education, support, and medication, putting them at greater risk of infection,” Danser said.

“Agencies like ours are uniquely positioned to bridge these gaps through experience building relationships with these populations and expertise implementing evidence-based STBBI programming and services.”

Related:

Turning Point reaches its 30th year

The 34,012 contacts related to STBBIs made by Turning Point included 24,584 office visits, 1,526 through outreach, 1,420 through education and support, and 6,482 by peer activities.

A total of 72,547 free condoms were distributed to priority populations within Central Zone, and 75 training events were conducted by Turning Point, with 876 service providers trained.

Turning Point has 14 satellite sites within Central Zone.

According to the report, 143 new clients living with HIV were supported by Alberta agencies in 2020. While the exact number of STI/HIV positive Albertans is unknown, it is estimated that 13 per cent of Canadians living with HIV are unaware of their infection.

Nearly half of those with Hepatitis C are also unaware of their status.

“People can live for years before any symptoms for Hepatitis C materialize, so our goal is for our community to get tested as soon as possible and to do so regularly so they’re aware of their STI/HIV status,” Danser said.

“If they’re positive, we can help them explore different options to reduce their viral load and the risk of transmission.”



szielinski@reddeeradvocate.com

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