Thunder Bay

Syphilis outbreak reported in northwestern Ontario

The Northwestern Health Unit says its seen around 40 cases since August of last year. Typically, it sees fewer than five cases a year.

The Northwestern Health Unit says its seen around 40 cases since August of last year

The Northwestern Health Unit is urging people to practice safer sex due to an outbreak of syphilis in the region. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

The Northwestern Health Unit is reporting an increase in cases of syphilis in its region, which stretches from the Manitoba border east to Pickle Lake and Atikokan. 

The region typically sees fewer than five cases a year of the disease, according to medical officer of health Dr. Kit Young Hoon.

So far, it's seen around 40 since last August. 

"People should be making an effort to protect themselves," Young Hoon told CBC, "so using condoms, using dental dams, and being aware of who you're having sex with."

Syphilis is spread through sexual activity and contact with sores associated with the disease. 

The health unit is urging anyone who has had unprotected sex with a new partner to seek testing from the health unit or their health care provider. 

"People who have unprotected sex, individuals who have multiple sex partners or people who might purchase or sell sex are at increased risk,"  Young Hoon said.

Symptoms of syphilis include sores on the mouth or genitals, rashes on the hands or feet, swollen glands, flu-like symptoms and hair loss, she added. 

The disease is curable with antibiotics in its early stages, but left untreated, it can impact the heart, brain, liver, bones and eyes, she said. 

Syphilis can also spread to a fetus, Young Hoon said, so pregnant women should be tested for the disease at about 28-32 weeks and also at delivery. 

The outbreak of syphilis in the region is linked to a similar outbreak in Manitoba, Young Hoon said.

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