Another virus: syphilis continues to increase in Saskatchewan.

Syphilis has grown from a relative rarity to a real threat to babies and young mothers in the province’s most at-risk communities.

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Syphilis is on the rise in Saskatchewan, leaving frontline agencies scrambling to find and stop another disease.

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Sexually transmitted infection has gone from a rarity to an epidemic within a few years, straining public health resources plagued by COVID-19 and threatening the most vulnerable communities – especially young women, who may be at risk of pass it on to their unborn children.

“I feel like it came out of nowhere,” said Katelyn Roberts, executive director of Sanctum Care Group. Sanctum operates a prenatal home for women at risk, primarily people living with HIV, and operates a government-funded prenatal outreach team.

Roberts said syphilis had quickly gone from being a rare diagnosis to one of their top priorities.

“It was unheard of. It was very rare. Now we are working on the assumption that everyone is seropositive for syphilis. “

Communicable disease reports from the Ministry of Health show a rapid increase in infection. In 2016, the year the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s medical officer of health, Dr Johnmark Opondo, identified the start of the epidemic, 85 cases were identified – at the time, more than three times the total for the year former.

In 2019, the government reported 397 cases. In 2020, it was 788. Preliminary data shows that 925 new cases were identified in 2021 as of July.

“Around 2019 is when the alarm bells really start ringing,” Opondo said.

Nationally, syphilis was once most common among men who have sex with men. Now it is more and more prevalent among women of childbearing age. Opondo said the demographic breakdown was almost exactly equal. This is a concern because syphilis can be transmitted congenitally, with serious health consequences and a risk of stillbirth as a result.

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“There are devastating effects of the transmission of syphilis to infants that we really shouldn’t see in a country with some of the best health infrastructure in the world,” said Roberts.

The health ministry did not respond to an investigation on Friday whether any cases of congenital syphilis had recently been identified.

Syphilis is preventable and treatable. Opondo said the challenge is that, like HIV and many other viruses, it is encouraged by socio-economic factors like poverty. This means that the groups most at risk are often poor and marginalized people who are not connected to health care or who may not seek it.

It’s even more likely with syphilis. His symptomatic sore or rash can be mistaken for almost anything; Opondo said he knew of patients who thought it was razor burn. These patients are not likely to come for the blood test, treatment and follow-up appointment year to cure the disease, he said.

“If I can’t even find you for your initial treatment, how do you expect me to find you four times after that?” “

The Public Health Agency of Canada has identified the rise of syphilis as a growing concern, noting that the disease also frequently presents alongside HIV. Saskatchewan’s HIV rate is the highest among Canadian provinces. Opondo said socio-economic factors are the link between diseases.

“Things like poverty and survival… are elements of STIs and the syphilis epidemic in Saskatchewan,” he said.

Roberts said many of Sanctum’s clients are struggling to survive. A growing number of homeless mothers are on waiting lists, which she attributes to controversial changes to the government’s income assistance program.

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“The current risk factors and socioeconomic barriers we currently see for women in our community are also increasing significantly,” said Roberts, adding that these clients may not be trusted with conventional health care resources.

“But we are working with populations that don’t trust the system and one sneaky little infection. It is a double-edged sword.

She hopes authorities won’t forget the spread of syphilis, even as COVID-19 continues to be high on the list of public health priorities.

“I know SHA is trying to increase as much as possible in the midst of a pandemic,” Roberts said.

  1. Dr Ibrahim Khan.

    Increase in sexually transmitted infections in Saskatchewan

  2. Dr. Rupeena Purewal is part of a provincial task force that is trying to stop syphilis in its tracks.

    Sask. A task force has been set up to stop the spread of syphilis

  3. Sanctum Interim Executive Director Jamesy Patrick.

    Sanctum secures additional funding for high-risk mothers-to-be

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