Sask. health authority warning of increased syphilis cases in province

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is warning the public that reported cases of syphilis have increased in recent months and over the last three years.

Increase especially prevalent in northwest Sask.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is urging people to get tested frequently for syphilis as symptoms can go unnoticed. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is warning the public about increased syphilis cases in Saskatchewan — especially in the northwest.

The area around Lloydminster didn't record a single case of syphilis until May. Since then, it has reported almost the same number of cases as it would in an entire year.

Dr. Mandiango Nsungu, a medical officer with SHA based out of North Battleford, couldn't say why there's been a sudden influx, but he says it's crucial for people to get tested often because symptoms can go unnoticed.

"Syphilis is one of those diseases that is known to be able to evolve very silently and to come back at a very late stage to cause serious damage," said Nsungu.

According to a document on SHA's website, the first symptom is often a painless sore that is usually firm, round, small and can go unnoticed. The next symptom is a red non-itchy rash, as well as flu-like symptoms.

Although both symptoms may resolve on their own, the person could still be infected.

If left untreated, the disease can cause serious damage to major organs. 

"The earlier the disease is treated the better it is," said Nsungu.

"Not only the treatment is simpler at that time, but most of the time it will be more effective because not very many organs will have been effected."

He said people with multiple sexual partners are especially at risk. So are pregnant women as syphilis can be transmitted to an unborn baby.

Since Saskatchewan is seeing a steady increase in reported syphilis cases, Nsungu recommends all pregnant women get tested.

Nsungu says testing can be done through a blood test or swab. If caught early, he says syphilis can be treated with a specific type of penicillin.

However, testing and treatment can become more complicated if the disease isn't caught early.

3 year rise

Infectious syphilis cases in Saskatchewan have been on the rise for the past three years, according to SHA.

There were 24 cases in 2015, 85 cases in 2016 and 120 cases in 2017.

As of Aug. 31 there have been 72 cases.

The best way to prevent syphilis is by avoiding sex with multiple partners, according to Nsungu. He says using a condom will reduce the risk, but won't fully prevent the spread of syphilis.