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Syphilis cases jump ten-fold in Manitoba, “hookup sites” making it difficult for health officials to manage

In 2015 Manitoba Health recorded 200 cases of syphilis.  A ten-fold increase.
In 2015 Manitoba Health recorded 200 cases of syphilis. A ten-fold increase. Courtesy, Manitoba Health

WINNIPEG– Manitoba Health says the number of syphilis cases in the province is nearing record levels.

On average Manitoba sees about 20 cases of the sexually transmitted infection every year.  In 2015, it jumped to 200 cases.

“We are on pace in 2016 to be the same as 2015, which is our highest year on record,” Dr. Joss Reimer, medical officer of health, said.

Just this week health officials in Alberta warned of a rise in STI’s, due to dating sites. 

While health officials in Manitoba aren’t blaming online hook-up apps for the ten-fold increase, they say they are making it difficult to manage once a diagnosis has been made.

“It’s a challenge because we don’t know how to find people if all we have to go on is a user name,” Dr. Reimer said.

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There is also a shortage of one of the main drugs used to treat syphilis, Bicillin.

“Because we are having an outbreak and many other cities are having an outbreak, the demand is higher than usual.”

Last week Manitoba Health sent out a notice to health care providers advising them to use ‘strict eligiblity criteria” and prescribe Bicillin solely to pregnant individuals diagnosed with syphilis and others who may have allergies to the alternative treatment.

Bicilin is the only treatment for pregnant women diagnosed with syphilis, which can cause damage to the fetus.

Syphilis first appears as a painless sore, and then disappears.  Dr. Reimer says that makes it difficult for the infected individual to even know there is a problem.

“Syphilis likes to lie dormant, sometimes for decades, causing slow damage to your body.  So what we really worry about is ten, twenty years down the line you can have heart damage.  Even more than that we worry about pregnant women getting syphilis,” Dr. Reimer said.

Officials are urging condom use.

“That’s your best way to reduce your risks but if you’re not, going for regular testing is the second best option.

Syphilis cases started to rise a few years ago.  In 2014 there were 120 cases, before the big spike to 200 in 2015.  Dr. Reimer says that’s the highest number seen since they started recording STI data 26 years ago.

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