Syphilis outbreak hits Nunavut

The Government of Nunavut is warning residents about a syphilis outbreak in the territory which started in May.

13 cases reported in Iqaluit

The Government of Nunavut is warning residents about a syphilis outbreak in the territory.

The government's Health Department said it identified the first case of the sexually transmitted infection in May and has since become concerned as the number of cases has continued to rise.

13 cases have been reported and all of them are in Iqaluit.

"I urge anyone who thinks they may be infected with syphilis to visit their health care provider today," said Dr. Geraldine Osborne, the territory's Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Dr. Geraldine Osborne, Nunavut's Chief Medical Officer of Health, is warning residents to go to a doctor or health centre if they think they are infected with syphilis. (CBC)

Osborne said it's unusual to see so many of the cases in Nunavut. She adds that she won't be surprised if the number climbs higher and spreads to other Nunavut communities.

"Because people are mobile I'm expecting we'll see cases quite soon in other communities."

Two years ago in Nunavut there were no diagnosed cases. Last year there were five.

Osborne said the disease has re-emerged in Europe and North America in the past 10 years, and Nunavut's outbreak is following a similar pattern.

"Generally it starts in urban areas and particularly among high risk groups like men who have sex with men, then it moves into the heterosexual population and that seems to be what's happening here in Nunavut as well."

Osborne said a high number of people having unprotected sex is the biggest factor in the syphilis outbreak.

The department plans to launch an awareness campaign with posters in public washrooms.

The symptoms of the infection are usually a rash or sore, but many people do not show any symptoms at all.

Syphilis is sexually transmitted from person to person through direct contact with a syphilis sore. The infection can be cured with antibiotics if caught early. If left untreated, it can cause damage to the heart, blood vessels, and brain and can even cause death.