Syphilis is a ‘tragedy’ in Saskatoon: Medical Officer of Health
The Saskatoon Medical Officer of Health (MHO) said syphilis is not a new disease, but has become a “tragedy” over the years.
According to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), the number of cases in the region rose from 38 in 2016 to 391 between early 2021 and late July, with 97% of Saskatoon’s current cases.
“Syphilis is a disease that has more or less been conquered in North America. When I started working in Saskatchewan in 2003, it was not unusual. Some years we wouldn’t have any cases of syphilis, so that’s the tragedy, ”said Dr Johnmark Opondo.
“Where we are today… we are really in epidemic proportions.
“As we come out of the pandemic (COVID-19)… We are just jumping from crisis to crisis. This is what bothers me and I feel a little worried about my public health teams who are so exhausted. “
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Heather Hale, executive director of Saskatoon Sexual Health, said she has seen a “significant” increase in syphilis cases and that the contributing factors are “complicated”.
“Factors include systemic issues around people who might not have access to a family doctor who might have other complicating factors in their lives, such as lack of access to housing or food, that kind of thing. things, ”she said.
“Also, once you start to see an increase in infections across the province, like in one region, it’s more likely that people will be infected with another infection.
“Sadly, overall Saskatchewan has a very poor sexual health score… we have the highest rates of HIV infection in Canada, so it’s almost three times the national average. We have the highest provincial rate of chlamydia. We have the second highest provincial rate of gonorrhea. We have very high rates of teenage pregnancy.
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According to Health Canada’s website, syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that is on the rise in the country.
Opondo said the increase in Saskatoon introduced the element of babies born with syphilis, called congenital syphilis, and can have a number of serious health issues.
“What has really happened lately … we are now seeing another epidemiology of syphilis, which is probably the most serious in that some of these people – both men and women – being young people of childbearing age, ”he said. .
“(Those who don’t have) syphilis care may pose a risk to the next generation, so this is really something we want to address… We really need to take action to really protect the next generation of citizens from Saskatchewan.
“Newborns who are exposed to syphilis in the womb have very poor outcomes and the results can range from stillbirth to very serious neurological problems, which last a lifetime.”
In a statement to Global News, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health said that between 2018 and 2020, there were six confirmed cases of congenital syphilis in the province and two newborn deaths due to complications from the syphilis last year.
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The doctor said the SHA’s response works on several levels, including raising awareness and supporting doctors and public health teams in knowing and ensuring that universal strategies are followed.
“It’s a preventable disease… basically we have to make sure that we treat our sexual health like our overall health and pay attention to it,” Opondo said.
“Don’t be intimidated. There is no stigma. Get your syphilis test and if it is positive, the treatment is universal and available and it’s covered by the health plan and the system and it’s a one-time treatment so it’s pretty straightforward.
“One way to treat congenital syphilis is to make sure that we screen and test every pregnant woman in Saskatchewan… Adding a syphilis test is standard and we want to make sure we do it all the time. “
Syphilis is diagnosed with a simple blood test and is easily treated with penicillin or other antibiotics, according to Health Canada.
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Opondo added that Saskatoon is not the only place of concern for syphilis in the province.
“(Provincial) we are seeing a lot of syphilis activity in central Saskatchewan, north-central, which includes the (Prince Albert) area, inside and outside the reserve,” a- he declared.
“It’s sort of moving west… so the North Battleford and Lloydminster area, which is in our former northern prairie health regions, all of those areas have reported and have been very busy responding to an outbreak of syphilis.
“Between the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, we have some of the highest provincial rates of syphilis and there are a lot of connections between the communities that are in western Saskatchewan.
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