Published On: Fri, Jun 7th, 2013

Vancouver health reports infection rates of syphilis the highest in three decades

Health officials in the western province are advising sexually active gay and bisexual men to have quarterly syphilis testing in light of the new numbers released yesterday by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC).

Darkfield microscopy of Treponema pallidum Credits:   CDC

Darkfield microscopy of Treponema pallidum
Credits: CDC

Syphilis rates are at their highest in 30 years in the Lower Mainland. In 2012, 371 cases were reported in BC and 80 per cent of those were diagnosed in Vancouver Coastal Health,” says Dr. Réka Gustafson, medical health officer with VCH. “We’re encouraging men who have sex with men to become more aware about syphilis and to incorporate regular testing into their health care routine.”

In addition, health officials warn, syphilis also increases the risk of getting HIV. In VCH, 60 per cent of all syphilis cases are also HIV positive.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium, Treponema pallidum. The most common way to get syphilis is by having sexual contact (oral, genital or anal) with an infected person. The secondary lesions are also infective and contact with them could transmit the bacteria.

Dr. Rich Lester, medical head of the BCCDC’s Sexually Transmitted Infections/HIV division warns, “A lot of people believe that just because they performed oral sex on their partner they’re practicing ‘safe sex.’ But syphilis spreads easily through any form of sexual contact,” he says. “On top of that, syphilis may have no symptoms in the early stages and whatever symptoms do appear later on are often mistaken for other diseases.”

In 2012, half of all diagnosed cases in VCH were picked up through blood testing in the early, asymptomatic stage of the disease.

Geoff Ford, a nurse educator with VCH’s STOP HIV Outreach Team says getting tested for syphilis is simple and urges regular testing–“Whether it’s at your doctor’s office, community health clinic, mobile testing clinic or even clinics available in local bath houses, there are a lot of convenient options available,” he says. “Catching the disease early and treating it with antibiotics is far easier than the consequences of syphilis when it’s too late.”

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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