Despite efforts to raise awareness around the risk of syphilis, the number of cases continues to increase in Alberta.
In fact, it’s now nearly 11 times higher than it was five years ago, according to Alberta Health Services.
So far this year, there have been 1,753 cases reported in Alberta. Most of them — 68 per cent — of those cases are in the Edmonton zone.
In 2014, there were 160 cases in Alberta.
Officials say some cases are congenital — passed from mother to fetus in utero.
This year, 38 babies were born with the sexually-transmitted infection in Alberta. Thirty-one of them were in the Edmonton area.
According to AHS, many people with syphilis have no symptoms, while others may have sores on their genitals and/or a rash on the palms of the hands, feet, or the whole body. The sores and rash may not be painful.
If not treated, the health provider said syphilis may cause blindness, paralysis, deafness, brain and heart disease, and mental health problems.
For pregnant women, syphilis can cause problems like early delivery, rupture of membranes, low birth weight, and stillbirth.
Syphilis can also cause birth defects that can lead to long-term health problems. AHS says when a woman is treated before delivering her baby, these problems can be prevented.
Alberta Health Services recently sent a letter to family doctors, asking them to create more inclusive environments and encourage open conversations.
“What that means is our patients can come in without bias or stigma and talk with their primary care practitioner or family physician about their sexual history to really help drive those increased testing opportunities,” said Dr. Chris Sikora, AHS medical officer of health.
“Sexual histories are always sensitive things to chat about. Being able to create those safe environments where patients can talk about their sexual histories is an important way to decrease that barrier to getting tested,” Sikora added, noting that “messaging and communication in the public is very important to help drive testing.”
“It’s safe. It’s easy. It’s effective.”
The best way to find out if you have syphilis is to get tested. The infection is treated with antibiotics.
AHS is also asking doctors to consider testing more people who are sexually active and pay closer attention to screening pregnant women.
Sikora said he does not know why syphilis rates continue to climb.