Education needed to combat syphilis outbreak

The New Brunswick government has to continue providing public health information in order to combat the rise in syphilis, according to an AIDS Saint John official.

AIDS New Brunswick also calls for more testing

A syphilis outbreak in New Brunswick is continuing to get worse, according to public health officials 2:02

The New Brunswick government has to continue providing public health information in order to combat the rise in syphilis, according to an AIDS Saint John official.

The Department of Health released statistics recently showing there were 57 cases of syphilis last year, up from 37 in 2010.

Most of the cases were in Fredericton and Moncton but there has also been a rise in Saint John and in northern New Brunswick.

The provincial government has distributed information about syphilis and condom use in bars and online.

Julie Dingwell, the executive director of AIDS Saint John, said these public education initiatives are good, but she wants education about all sexually transmitted infections to include outreach groups in the classroom.

"Kids are obviously not getting the health education they need," she said. "But that is where it needs to take place, because we don't have them captive in any other venue."

Syphilis starts as a sore on the genitals but can turn into a rash, fever or even death.

Most of the cases involve men who reported only having sex with other men and a majority of them were between the ages of 20 and 25.

Along with education, another advocate said the provincial government needs to offer people more access to sexual health clinics so they could be tested.

Nick Scott, the executive director of AIDS New Brunswick, said the rise in the sexually transmitted infections is "a big concern."

Scott said people should have better access to testing at sexual health clinics across the province. But he said that has been made more difficult by recent government cuts.

"Anyone in the demographic that is actually being impacted by this outbreak has to go to their family doctor or an after-hours clinic," he said.

Sexual health habits

Dr. Denis Allard, the province's deputy chief medical officer of health, said the sexual habits of some young people are part of the reason for the increase in syphilis.

"They often meet them in places where they either use drugs or get drunk with alcohol so that their judgment gets poor, tends to have higher sexual activity, and also unprotected sexual activity," Allard said.

The provincial government has also recorded an increase in the number of women diagnosed with syphilis.

Syphilis is not the only sexually transmitted infection that has seen a recent increase.

Chlamydia has also noticed a 20 per cent increase in the last year, according to provincial statistics.

Chlamydia, a sexually transmitted infection that can damage female reproductive organs, is putting young women in the province especially at risk.

In February 2011, the provincial government said more than 1,800 youth had chlamydia up 20 per cent from the previous year.

Allard said the increase in the number of sexual partners is likely contributing to the increase in sexually transmitted infections.

"I think it is just that a lot more of the young people started to have many more sexual partners than they had before.They have more casual types of sex. So these things are very short-term sexual relations," Allard said.