Record high syphilis numbers in Hastings Prince Edward prompts warning from health unit

Gloved hand holding syphilis test

Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) has issued a reminder to local residents amidst a concerning rise in infectious syphilis cases.

In a media release, the health unit underscores the importance of diligence and safer sex practices as reports of this sexually transmitted bacterial infection continue to escalate.

Over the past five years, cases of infectious syphilis have steadily risen both locally and across the province. Preliminary figures for 2023 reveal 24 cases within the locality, marking the highest number recorded to date.

Syphilis, primarily transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sexual contact, is easily detectable through a blood test and treatable with antibiotics. Initial symptoms typically manifest as painless sores at the exposure site, followed by subsequent signs like rash, fever, and other related symptoms. It’s important to note that these symptoms might vanish without treatment while the infection persists within the body.

Of heightened concern is the increasing incidence of syphilis among females. This shift in demographics raises alarms as syphilis during pregnancy could result in congenital syphilis, potentially infecting the baby during gestation or birth. The unawareness of the infection in the birth parent often leads to this unfortunate transmission, significantly impacting the baby’s developmental trajectory.

HPEPH urges the public to seek syphilis screening under the following circumstances:

  • Engaging in sexual activities with new or multiple partners without the use of barrier protection (e.g., condoms), especially with anonymous partners.
  • Displaying symptoms consistent with syphilis, even if these symptoms have dissipated.
  • Being pregnant or planning pregnancy.

Screening services are available at various healthcare facilities, including healthcare providers, college health services, walk-in clinics, and HPEPH for those encountering barriers to sexual health care.

Use of barrier protection, such as condoms, is the best way to protect against syphilis and all other STIs during sex. Condoms and other forms of barrier protection are available at no cost at all HPEPH office locations.  

To find out more about syphilis, including symptoms, stages, and treatment visit HPEPH’s syphilis facts page. HPEPH public health nurses are available for confidential and non-judgemental support by phone Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 613-966-5500, ext. 243 or 1-800-267-2803, ext. 243. Please note that HPEPH is closed for the holidays at noon on Friday, December 29 and on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024.

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