Syphilis cases are rising across the province, the BC Center for Disease Control warns
The BC Center for Disease Control (BCCDC) warns of a rise in syphilis cases in the province.
According to the latest BCCDC data, there was a 27 percent increase in syphilis cases from 2022 to 2021.
In 2022, the province reported 1,965 syphilis cases, compared to 1,430 cases in 2021.
Troy Grennan, senior physician for BCCDC’s sexual health programs, says there has been an upward trend in transmission of the sexually transmitted infection.
Infectious syphilis cases have been increasing since 2010. However, the number of infectious syphilis cases has risen more dramatically over the past two years, doubling from about 1,000 cases each in 2019 and 2020 to almost 2,000 cases in 2022.
“It’s going up pretty steadily,” Grennan said.
He says the only year in the past decade that hasn’t seen an increase was 2020, which saw a few months of significant falls in testing and cases.
“When COVID first showed up and people really stayed home and didn’t do much, we saw a dramatic drop in testing,” he said.
More cases in women, babies during pregnancy
Historically, men who have sex with other men tend to be disproportionately affected by syphilis. But the latest numbers show a shift, Grennan says.
“We’re seeing an increasing number of women and men having sex with women,” he said.
He says he can’t speculate on the reasons for the rising numbers but says it could possibly be due to more people being tested for syphilis.
A handful of cases have been seen in women of childbearing age, he adds.
He says BC and other parts of Canada have also seen an increase in cases of congenital syphilis, which is when a baby becomes infected during pregnancy.
If not diagnosed and/or treated early, it can have devastating consequences, including fetal loss or stillbirth or other serious health problems, Grennan said.
“That’s why it’s especially important during pregnancy to do your regular prenatal follow-up,” he said.
Mary Saugstad, a clinic resource nurse at Options for Sexual Health, says her clinics are overwhelmed.
Syphilis is one of the STIs, she says, that she treats more often.
“Ten, 20 years ago, we didn’t see that very often and we’re finding that we’re treating syphilis more,” Saugstad said.
Left untreated, syphilis can cause serious health problems, including damage to vital organs, dementia, paralysis, blindness, and eventually death.
Saugstad says elective clinics offer screening for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV and syphilis.
“We recommend getting checked out with or without symptoms,” she said. “This is definitely our number one strategy for preventing the spread of STIs.”