Manitoba

Manitoba syphilis outbreak driven by social media hook-ups

Social media is fuelling an outbreak of syphilis in Winnipeg.
At least 50 per cent of those infected with syphilis in Manitoba used social media to find a casual, anonymous sex partner. That makes it more difficult for authorities to identify and notify people to get treatment, say health authorities. (Getty Images)

Social media is still fuelling the largest outbreak of syphilis in Winnipeg in recent years.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical officer of health for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, says 60 cases have been reported in Winnipeg so far this year. The majority are diagnosed in men who are having sex with men

"The numbers are the highest we have seen since our current method of keeping record [was adopted]. We have numbers back to 1991 and we don't have any other years close to this year," she said.

"We had outbreaks in 2003 and again in 2007, but this outbreak is quite a bit larger."

And at least 50 per cent of those infected used social media to find a casual, anonymous sex partner. That makes it more difficult for authorities to identify and notify people to get treatment.

"But in this case we are hearing that Mr. X is their partner and that's all they know. That his name is Mr. X online," said Reimer.

"And so we are having a lot of difficulty figuring out who the real person is, and being able to notify them and get them tested and treated."

To that end, the WRHA has bought advertising on social media sites to get the message out.

The good news is that when caught early, it is very easy to treat: one dose of an antibiotic, Reimer said.

"But what we are worried about mostly is that we are not able to notify people that have been exposed and when it does stick around, untreated, it can cause a lot of damage to the body over the years that the infection is present."

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