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Canada’s chief public health officer issued syphilis warning on Valentine’s Day

By Daniel Otis

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    TORONTO (CTV Network) — Canada’s chief public health officer has issued a Valentine’s Day warning about the dangers of syphilis, with cases doubling in the country since 2018.

“I would like to take the opportunity to bring attention to the serious health risk posed by syphilis in Canada and the importance of early testing to change the recent upward trajectory in new cases,” Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement on Tuesday. “Canada, like many countries, has experienced an alarming increase in syphilis cases.”

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that can lead to heart, brain, blood vessel and nervous system problems if left untreated. With a timely diagnosis, it can usually be cured with antibiotics. Initial symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, swollen glands in the neck or groin, and the appearance of a firm and painless ulcer at the point of infection.

“Since not everyone will develop noticeable symptoms of syphilis, particularly in the early stages of infection, people may become infected without knowing it,” Tam cautioned. “This makes it easier for the infection to spread undetected, which reinforces the critical importance of early testing, diagnosis and treatment.”

According to data reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada by the provinces and territories, there were 13,953 cases of infectious syphilis and 117 cases of congenital syphilis in the country in 2022. Congenital syphilis occurs when an infection is transmitted to a fetus during pregnancy, which can have deadly or life-altering consequences.

“This represents a doubling in infectious syphilis and a six-fold increase in congenital syphilis in Canada compared to 2018,” Tam explained. “Sadly, too many individuals and their families across the country are facing the devastating health complications of untreated syphilis.”

Tam encourages the use of safe-sex barriers and is urging pregnant people and those with new or multiple sexual partners to get screened.

The warning comes during Sexual Health Week, which runs from Feb. 12 to 16 this year. The annual awareness initiative is spearheaded by the charitable organization Action Canada, which promotes reproductive and sexual rights and health.

“It is our collective responsibility to tackle this issue,” Tam said. “I encourage all levels of government, community organizations and health professionals to join me in raising awareness of the health risks related to untreated syphilis and to work together to ensure access to timely testing and treatment to help people get the care they deserve, and to reduce the impact of this significant public health threat in Canada.”

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