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Syphilis cases nearly triple in Saskatchewan, health authority reports

Syphilis cases nearly triple in Saskatchewan
WATCH: New data shows Saskatchewan was already struggling with increased STI rates while preparing for the novel coronavirus.

According to data from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the number of syphilis cases in the province nearly tripled between the first quarter of 2019 and 2020.

Data provided by the SHA shows there were 158 cases of the sexually transmitted infection in January, February and March of 2020, compared to 58 in the prior year.

“This is very concerning because syphilis is an infection that can cause a lot of damage,” said Savannah Holt, the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute’s Sexual and Reproduction Health program coordinator.

READ MORE: Sask. HIV diagnoses up 18%, syphilis up 172% in 2019

“Many people don’t even know that they have that infection… Some of the effects of it can include blindness, dementia, loss of hearing, stroke or even death,” she added.

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The SHA said the increase is a result of outbreaks in the “northwest and northeast areas of the province and in the cities of Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert.”

Data also shows the rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea dropped, by 7.4 per cent and 14.7 per cent, respectively, but notes the decreases are partially related to lab equipment needed to test for the infections being used to test for COVID-19 instead.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan health minister takes responsibility for COVID-19 communication shortfalls

“Routine testing hasn’t been available for the last two months and that’s probably a big factor in why we’re seeing those numbers decline,” Holt said.

She also told Global News the province reopening and relaxing restrictions designed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus provides a chance to evaluate the how the health authority responds to severe health events.

“It’s a perfect opportunity for us to sit down and talk and then make a real change about how we can envision a future where we can handle a global pandemic, but also make sure that we’re putting in enough effort toward preventive measures.”

Saskatchewan patients and practitioners find relief with eased coronavirus restrictions
Saskatchewan patients and practitioners find relief with eased coronavirus restrictions

Heather Hale, the executive director of Saskatoon Sexual Health, said anyone with concerns about their sexual health should speak to their doctor.

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“As we come out of this, we still have levels of STIs that are higher than we’d like to see. So I think it’s going to be really important for folks to be able to get back on that routine testing.”

She said testing needs to be paired with education.

In a statement, the SHA said it continues to monitor STI and HIV trends, which includes providing testing, treatment and contact tracing.