VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Syphilis rates in this province are at their highest in three decades, and that’s prompted Vancouver Coastal Health to declare an outbreak.
“In 2015, nearly 500 cases of infectious syphilis were reported in Vancouver Coastal Health, more than double the yearly cases reported a decade ago,” says Dr. Réka Gustafson with VCH. “Because new infections continue to climb, we have initiated a formal outbreak response.”
The health authority says it is stepping up its efforts by working directly with physicians and community groups to increase testing and promote awareness of the steps that can be taken to prevent, diagnose and treat syphilis.
There is a particular focus on urging gay men to get tested regularly. Vancouver Coastal Health says 97% of syphilis diagnoses are male and over 80 per cent identify as gay, bisexual, or men who have sex with men (MSM).
VCH says it’s seen a shift to younger men, with the largest increase in syphilis rates among 20 to 24-year-olds.
It adds syphilis is being diagnosed both among men living with HIV and those who are not, pointing out having syphilis increases the risk of getting HIV infection.
Dr. Réka Gustafson explains who is most at risk and prevention measures:
On Sunday, VCH, Positive Living BC, the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), YouthCO and Health Initiative for Men (HIM) will launch a marketing campaign focusing on gay men.
Syphilis is a contagious infection spread primarily by sexual activity. People with syphilis may not know they have it because they may not have symptoms.
It can be cured with antibiotics. However, if syphilis is left untreated, it can lead to blindness, hearing loss, deep bone pain and neurological problems. Severe cases can be fatal.
VCH and the BCCDC recommend that men who have sex with men get tested every three to six months, and visit their doctor if they have sores, bumps, a rash, blisters or warts on or around their genitals or anal area. They also recommend using condoms.