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Syphilis outbreak declared in Alberta amid ‘rapid increase’ in cases

Alberta has seen a “sharp increase” in the infectious and congenital syphilis rates, leading the province’s chief medical officer of health to declare a provincial outbreak.

A total of 1,536 cases of infectious syphilis were reported in Alberta in 2018, compared to 161 in 2014. From 2017 to 2018 alone, Alberta experienced a 187 per cent increase in the number of infectious syphilis cases reported, the province said Tuesday.

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In the Edmonton area, 977 cases of infectious syphilis were reported in 2018, an increase of 305 per cent compared to 2017, according to Alberta Health.

The Calgary area saw 206 cases of the STI reported in 2018, an increase of seven per cent from the year before.

The rate of infectious syphilis has not been this high in Alberta since 1948, according to the province.

“We need to emphasize for all Albertans: sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a risk to anyone who is sexually active, particularly people who have new sex partners and are not using protection,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacteria called treponema pallidum. It is passed between people through unprotected sexual contact.

Syhilis can be active at times and not active at other times. Even when you don’t have symptoms, you can pass it on to others.

Congenital syphilis, which occurs when a child is born to a mother with syphilis, is severe and can be life-threatening. The province said 22 cases of congenital syphilis were reported in Alberta between 2014 and 2018, one of which was stillborn.

Watch below: Su-Ling Goh looks at what’s being done to help pregnant women amid growing concern about the rise in rates of syphilis.

As a way to try to combat the spike, a provincial outbreak coordination committee has been set up. The committee — which includes Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services and other provincial health officials — has been tasked with coming up with a strategy to increase STI testing, promote public awareness and reduce the overall number of syphilis cases in Alberta.

“Sexual health is an important part of overall health,” said Dr. Laura McDougall, a senior medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services.

“We are working with community partners to remove stigma and increase awareness about STI testing services throughout Alberta. If you are sexually active, make regular STI testing part of your health routine.”

Health officials say correct and consistent condom use is important in protecting against STIs. Health experts recommend sexually active people, regardless of gender, age or sexual orientation, 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
  • Have been sexually assaulted

Further breakdown of the provincial STI rates can be found on the government’s website.

Anyone experiencing STI-related symptoms is urged to get tested. Further information is available through Health Link by calling 811.

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