Health officials declare syphilis outbreak in Nova Scotia

Doctor recommends testing and safe sex practices

Nova Scotia health officials have declared a provincewide outbreak of syphilis after seeing a spike in cases last year.

There were 82 recorded cases of the sexually transmitted disease across the province in 2019, almost double the amount in 2018, according to a news release from the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

“The fact that we have an increase at all is enough to call for an outbreak,” Dr. Gaynor Watson-Creed, deputy medical officer of health for Nova Scotia, said during a press conference Monday.

The disease is spread through unprotected anal, oral or vaginal sex. While it’s treatable if detected early, it can cause serious damage to a person’s brain and organs, and even lead to death if left untreated.

The last time a syphilis outbreak was declared in Nova Scotia was 2009. While men are often more at risk of contracting syphilis, Watson-Creed said they’ve noticed the number of women being infected has doubled.

In 2019, 20 per cent of reported syphilis cases were in women, compared with just 10 per cent in 2018.

While there were numerous public health notices and warnings during the last outbreak, Watson-Creed said the public messaging on safe sex prevention practices “wane over time.”

“That’s consistent to what we see with many communicable diseases,” she said.

Syphilis symptoms can include open sores, flu-like illness, muscle aches and pains, rashes, and fatigue.

Watson-Creed said as well as using proper protection during sex, the safest option for people at risk of the disease is getting tested.

“Go out, get tested, get treated, because syphilis is preventable,” she said.

Sam Gillett

Sam calls Orillia, Ontario home. When he's not chasing Signal stories, he can be found sketching in cafes, watching soccer or following news about professional motocross.

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