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Syphilis cases on the rise on Island & Coast

Syphilis cases have been on the rise in Canada, including on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) with symptoms that include pain or soreness, non-itchy rash to your chest, abdomen, palms on your hand and feet.

The BC Centre for Disease Control released a report showing that between January and September 2023, 1,501 syphilis cases were reported in the province. That is an 0.7 percent increase from the number of cases in 2022.

According to Medical health officer for Island Health Brandon Yau, case rates have gone up in the past several years.

“Over the past year, we have seen around 10 to 20 cases of infectious syphilis diagnosed per month,” said Yau.

“For contrast, around 10 years ago in 2013, there was a total of 20 cases in the entire year.”

While Island Health saw 196 cases last year, Vancouver Coastal Health saw the largest number at 767.

Yau says there is no single reason behind the increase, but there could be several factors including barriers to testing and treatment and changing sexual practices.

He says they have also noticed a change in the population affected by syphilis.

“Previously it’s been over-represented in the population of men who have sex with men, and right now we are seeing more and more of the heterosexual population being impacted,” said Yau.

“For women of reproductive age, there is a risk of congenital syphilis. It’s a very serious condition where the syphilis is transferred to the fetus during pregnancy, and there are consequences to the fetus such as fetal loss, and stillbirth.”

He adds untreated syphilis can lead to brain, heart, and organ damage and nervous system infection.

He says they are working to raise awareness, educate people on syphilis symptoms, and encourage more people to get tested and treated.

“We would encourage people to get tested if they have any symptoms as part of routine screenings for STI’s and if their partner or any of their partners have been diagnosed with syphilis.”

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