Syphilis infections spike in B.C., especially among women

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Syphilis infections in B.C. have hit a 30-year high, due to a sudden increase of more than 30 per cent.

While the majority of infections are among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, infections among women 15-49 years old increased by nearly 40 per cent.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) recorded 919 new cases of the sexually transmitted infection last year, including two cases of congenital syphilis in newborn babies, who can acquire it from their mother during pregnancy or birth.

The bacteria can be passed to anyone through oral, vaginal or anal sexual contact and through skin-to-skin contact with a lesion or chancre.

In response to the increase in infections among women, B.C. will temporarily screen all pregnant women for syphilis around the time of childbirth. Women are already routinely screened during the first trimester of pregnancy.

“This is an interim measure in response to an outbreak and aligns with actions taken by other provinces to prevent a serious infection that can harm both mother and baby,” said Dr. Mark Gilbert, medical director for Clinical Prevention Services at the BCCDC.

Alberta and Manitoba have each reported more than 10 cases of congenital syphilis in the past year and have also adopted screening in early and late pregnancy.

Left untreated during pregnancy, syphilis can lead to low birth weight, deafness, deformity, premature birth and stillbirth.

In sexually active adults, possible symptoms of an infection include a hard, painless sore on the genitals, mouth or anus, a skin rash on the back, chest hands or genitals, fever, swelling of the glands and fatigue.

Some people show no symptoms of infection.

Using condoms during sex will reduce the chances of acquiring or transmitting an infection, but it can be transmitted through contact with parts of the body not protected by a condom.

Pregnant women and people most at-risk of syphilis infection should be tested, especially if you have multiple sexual partners or show any symptoms, according to the BCCDC.

Your family doctor or a walk-in clinic can provide testing, or you can locate a sexual health clinic at https://smartsexresource.com/get-tested/clinic-finder

BCCDC also operates a discreet testing service for STIs called GetCheckedOnline, which allows uses to register and then deliver a sample directly to a lab for testing. Users can be tested for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis and hepatitis C.

rshore@postmedia.com

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