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Increase in syphilis

July 23, 2015

Over the last 12 months, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has seen a 76% increase in the number of cases of infectious syphilis.  All cases in the last year have been male, and over 90 per cent report they are men who have sex with men. 

Syphilis is passed through oral, vaginal or anal sex and through skin-to-skin contact with a syphilis sore.  Condoms are only partially effective in preventing transmission.  Symptoms are usually mild and are often mistaken for something else.  Individuals can be infected and not know they have syphilis.

Symptoms may include a painless sore (chancre) and rashes which may include palms of the hands or soles of the feet.  Untreated symptoms resolve in the short term but the infection is still there and needs to be treated with antibiotics.

Syphilis is easily cured with antibiotics when treated early.  Delayed treatment can result in severe and irreversible damage to organs including the heart, brain, liver, bones and eyes.

OPH recommends syphilis screening for:

  • People who have a sexual partner diagnosed with syphilis
  • People with multiple sexual partners, especially men who have sex with men
  • Sexually-active people showing signs and symptoms consistent with syphilis
  • Women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy

People at risk can access blood test screening through their primary care provider, at OPH's Sexual Health Centre or Gay Zone clinic.

For more information, contact Ottawa Public Health Information Line at 613-580-6744 (TTY:613-580-9656) or the AIDS and Sexual Health Information Line at 1-800-668-2437.

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