Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador are reporting an increase in syphilis cases, prompting call to the public of the importance of safer sex practices, including the regular use of condoms and oral dams and routine testing for sexually transmitted infections.


According to Eastern Health, 33 syphilis cases were reported in 2018. In addition, they saw the first cases of confirmed and suspect congenital syphilis in 2018.

Syphilis is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) contracted through unprotected anal, vaginal or oral sex. It can cause serious and permanent damage to the body if untreated. Symptoms may first appear 10 to 90 days after an individual becomes infected, with the average period of time being 21 days. While some people may not experience any symptoms, syphilis can produce different symptoms at each stage of infection, including: an open sore at the point of infection (genital area, anus, mouth or lips), flu-like illness, muscle aches and pains, fatigue, and/or a rash on the chest, back, palms of hands and bottoms of feet.

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Congenital syphilis occurs when a pregnant woman, who has syphilis, spreads the disease to her unborn infant. When passed to a baby, syphilis can result in miscarriage, newborn death, and severe lifelong physical and developmental concerns. Without early and regular prenatal care, a pregnant woman may not know that she has syphilis and that her baby is at risk. Syphilis during pregnancy is easily cured with the right antibiotics.

If an individual has had unprotected anal, oral or vaginal sex and are concerned they may have contracted syphilis, it is important to see a health-care professional and to get tested as soon as possible. Eastern Health encourages all sexually active people to be tested for STIs as part of their regular health-care screening.