Syphilis on the rise in Manitoba amid treatment shortage

In 2015, Manitoba had 200 cases of infectious syphilis, the most on record, but now the favoured treatment method is having a shortage.

Online dating, better HIV treatment leading to highest rates of syphilis in recorded history

In 2015, Manitoba had 200 cases of infectious syphilis, the most on record according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. (Getty Images)

Rates of syphilis are skyrocketing in Manitoba as the favoured treatment option experiences a shortage. 

In 2015, the province had 200 cases of infectious syphilis, the most on record. 

"Our records go back about 27 years and we don't have anything even close to that in any other year," Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical officer of health for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said.

At the end of April there were already 81 cases and Reimer said that "puts us on track to surpass last year's numbers."

"The numbers we used to see were one to two cases a month and now we are seeing 15 to 20 cases every month," she said.

The numbers are rising as Bicillin, the preferred treatment method for the sexually transmitted disease, has a shortage.

The antibiotic is the most successful and easiest option for people with the STD, and it is also the only treatment that requires a one-time dosage. 

"The company, right now, has a shortage so we've been reserving the Bicillin for mostly pregnant women and for those who have a lot of barriers for adhering to other treatment options," Reimer said. 

Syphilis is an STD that can have serious complications if left untreated.

If untreated in pregnant women, syphilis can impact the fetus causing lifelong health difficulties or even death. 

Reimer said that even with the drug shortage, there are other options for treatment and she is urging people to get tested and practice safe sex. 

Online dating, better HIV treatments leading to risky sexual behaviour

Reimer said that better HIV treatments mean that people are less afraid of contracting the infection and are making different sexual choices. 

The other challenge is related to how many people are using online dating services. 

"The person who is coming to us with a case of syphilis may or may not know who they are having sex with," Reimer said. "What they are telling us is a user name."

Reimer explained that makes it difficult for public health nurses to track down a person who may have been exposed to syphilis. Nurses have even gone onto websites to send private messages if the person at risk can be tracked down. 

Reimer said they have also purchased advertising on the dating websites to let people know there is an outbreak and how to get tested.