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B.C. records first cases of congenital syphilis in 6 years amid STI outbreak

Children born to mothers who have syphilis are at risk of contracting the infection. Pixabay

Health officials are sounding the alarm about the resurgence of syphilis in the province, including the first two cases of congenital syphilis recorded in six years.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and Provincial Health Services Agency (PHSA) said more than 900 people tested positive for syphilis in 2018, up 33 per cent from the year before.

It’s about five times higher than it was 10 years ago, so overall in the province we know that we’re seeing increasing numbers of syphilis,” Dr. Mark Gilbert with the CDC told CKNW’s The Simi Sara Show.

“Most of the cases are among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men and that’s always the population that we’re thinking about what we can do in terms of increasing testing and prevention.

READ MORE: Syphilis outbreak declared in Alberta amid ‘rapid increase’ in cases

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Syphilis can be contracted through oral, vaginal or anal intercourse with an infected person, or through skin-to-skin contact with a syphilis lesion. It can also be passed from a pregnant mother to their unborn child during pregnancy or at childbirth.

Click to play video: 'Alberta declares provincial outbreak of syphilis' Alberta declares provincial outbreak of syphilis
Alberta declares provincial outbreak of syphilis – Jul 16, 2019

The sexually-transmitted infection is bacterial, and can be cured with antibiotics. If left untreated, however, it can lead to serious long-term health issues, including brain damage.

“People can have syphilis and not know it, so many people may not have symptoms and they may not recognize symptoms when they have it,” said Gilbert.

“It’s important to get tested, just testing through a blood test, then you can get treated and then that prevents complications from syphilis.

While the CDC says syphilis is most common among men who have sex with other men, it warned there has also been an alarming spike of nearly 40 per cent among women aged 15 to 49.

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READ MORE: HIV and syphilis outbreaks declared in northwest Saskatchewan

Because of the increased rate of syphilis among women, the province has temporarily changed its pregnancy screening guidelines to include additional testing close to women’s delivery dates.

Health officials said syphilis left untreated during pregnancy can lead to early birth, low birth weight, long-term neurological issues, bone deformities, deafness and even stillbirth.

READ MORE: Can you have an STI and a safe pregnancy?

The two cases of congenital syphilis recorded in 2019 are the first in the province since 2013, the CDC noted.

B.C. is not alone in dealing with an outbreak of the disease. Spikes in infections have also cropped up in Alberta and Manitoba, with both provinces recording more than 10 cases of congenital syphilis last year.

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