The Chief Public Health Office continues to see increased cases of infectious syphilis throughout Prince Edward Island, says Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison.
Since January 2014, Prince Edward Island has been notified of 15 lab confirmed cases of infectious syphilis. The number has been increasing steadily since 2010. In comparison, from 1987-2009 there were only seven cases of syphilis (both infectious and non-infectious) in the province. With this increase in the number of confirmed cases, there is concern that there may be others who have contracted the disease unknowingly and should be tested.
Syphilis is primarily a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a bacteria. It is transmitted by unprotected oral, anal and vaginal sex. Early symptoms of infection may include a painless ulcer or chancre, rash, fever, swollen or enlarged lymph nodes, hair loss, and headaches. Symptoms may or may not be present. If left untreated, syphilis can cause serious health complications including heart problems, brain damage, blindness and even death.
Infectious syphilis has been increasing across the country over the past five years. In Prince Edward Island the majority of cases are men but some women are being infected as well. Although some Prince Edward Island cases have been linked to out of province contacts, many are being locally acquired and some have been linked to anonymous sex partners being contacted through the internet (primarily men having sex with men).
Protection from syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) requires safer sex practices. Barrier precautions such as condoms for all sexual activities including oral sex and testing for STIs before engaging with a new partner are essential to maintaining sexual health. It is important to remember that many STIs do not cause symptoms and testing is the only way to know for sure if you are infected.
Anyone who thinks they may be at risk of an STI or are exhibiting symptoms should abstain from unprotected sex and seek medical care. Syphilis is diagnosed with a simple blood test and if caught early can be treated with a single dose of antibiotics. Follow-up testing is very important to ensure that treatment has been successful.
People with concerns are encouraged to talk with their healthcare provider.