Nfld. & Labrador

Steep increase in syphilis rates, warns Eastern Health

There have been 42 new cases reported from Jan. 1, 2017, and Feb. 9, 2018.

A quarter of the new cases are also infected with HIV

Eastern Health is reminding people to practise safe sex in the wake of rising syphilis cases. (MediaForMedical/UIG/Getty Images)

Newfoundland and Labrador's largest health authority rang alarm bells Tuesday about a spike in reports of syphilis, noting that 42 cases have been reported in just over a year. 

Eastern Health disclosed in a statement that seven cases were reported just in the first 40 days of this year. 

Eastern Health, which oversees reports filed in eastern Newfoundland, said those figures mark a "steep increase" compared with 2016, Eastern Health said in a media release issued Tuesday.

The cases were reported between Jan. 1, 2017, and Feb. 9, 2018.

A quarter of the people among the 42 new cases have also been infected with HIV, according to the health authority. 

As well, 13 cases were diagnosed with neurosyphilis, which can cause vision and hearing loss.

There isn't one particular demographic that is more affected by the new cases: men and women, aged 15 to 63, are reporting the infection. 

'The condom is your best friend'

Syphilis is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) contracted through unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex. 

People are reminded to use condoms and to get tested for STIs.

Health Minister John Haggie has said it's important for people to know the risks and take precautions when it comes to anonymous sex. (CBC)

Last October, health officials said people using condoms less during sex was one of the factors behind the increasing number of syhphilis cases. 

"The condom is your best friend," said Health Minister John Haggie. 

Technology was also cited as a possible contributing factor since it makes anonymous hook-ups easier, but makes tracing the disease harder.

After a person is diagnosed with syphilis, health officials ask for a list of sexual contacts to notify them that they should get tested.

That's more difficult with anonymous dating apps, like Tinder and Grindr. 

The popular dating app Tinder can make it easier for people to arrange anonymous sexual encounters. (CBC)

"So let's say if it were that you did have a STI, then it's very hard for you to go back and figure out, 'Like who was that? Do I have their number? Do I even have their last name?'" Carola Penney of Planned Parenthood–NL Sexual Health Centre in St. John's told CBC News last fall. 

Eastern Health said symptoms can appear between 10 and 90 days after a person becomes infected and can include:

  • An open sore at the point of infection. 
  • Flu-like illness. 
  • Muscle aches and pains.
  • A rash on the chest, back, palms of hands and bottoms of feet.

With files from Peter Cowan