Health officials in Newfoundland are reporting an outbreak of the sexually transmitted infection, syphilis, and are advising safe-sex practices to the non-monogamous public.

Newfoundland and Labrador/John Fowler
Newfoundland and Labrador/John Fowler

Eastern Health is reporting 15 confirmed syphilis cases during the first 2 1/2 months of 2015, this compares to reporting 26 cases during all of 2014.

Health officials say the majority of these most recent cases have been identified in males between the ages of 20 and 49 years old who have had sexual intercourse with men.

Syphilis increases the potential for the spread of HIV infection. Among the 41 cases of syphilis diagnosed between January 1, 2014 and March 11, 2015, 10 have been co-infected with HIV.

“Over the last 10 years, the number of recorded cases of syphilis has increased from a few cases a year to the number we are seeing today,” said Dr. David Allison, Medical Officer of Health for Eastern Health. “By informing the public of the increased risk of contracting syphilis and enhancing our efforts to identify and treat those who may have come into contact with it, Eastern Health hopes to prevent the further spread of this infection, as well as HIV.”

Related: Los Angeles issues health warning: 2 possible ocular syphilis cases being investigated

In response to the growing number of cases of syphilis, the Communicable Disease Control Program at Eastern Health will be increasing sexual health clinics for testing, treatment and follow-up.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can cause long-term complications if not treated correctly. Symptoms in adults are divided into stages. These stages are primary, secondary, latent, and late syphilis. Syphilis is transmitted via direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Sores can be found on the penis, vagina, anus, in the rectum, or on the lips and in the mouth. Syphilis can also be spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby (congenital syphilis).