Syphilis infections sharply higher in B.C.—especially in Vancouver Coastal health region

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      This morning, CBC News reported that syphilis rates are at a 30-year high in B.C., with 919 cases reported in B.C. in 2018.

      That's nearly six times the figure in 2010.

      Syphilis a sexually transmitted disease caused by the Treponema pallidum bacterium.

      Because the symptoms are so varied, it's not always easy to diagnose without a test. A blood sample can show if the body is creating antibodies to the bacteria. 

      As the graph below shows, the rate of syphilis infections in the Vancouver Coastal health region far exceeds the national rate.

      Gay and bisexual men are most at risk.

      This graph shows how much higher the syphilis rate was in the Vancouver Coastal health region in 2018 in comparison to across the country.
      B.C Centre for Disease Control

      Meanwhile, syphilis rates in the Interior, Northern, and Fraser health regions are significantly below the national average.

      On Vancouver Island, syphilis rates tracked close to the national average in 2018.

      Well over 90 percent of the syphilis cases in B.C. last year involved men.

      The highest numbers were among those between 25 and 39 years old.

      The highest rates of syphilis infections are among males from the ages of 25 to 39.
      B.C. Centre for Disease Control

      According to WebMD, the first visible sign of syphilis is often a small, painless chancre near the point where the bacteria entered the body.

      Sometimes, it's inside the rectum or the vagina, where it's not visible. This occurs within the first 10 days.

      Secondary syphilis develops from the second to the 10th week, and can include a skin rash with reddish-brown sores or sores inside the mouth, vagina, and anus.

      Doctors can test the fluid from one of these sores to diagnose the disease, though blood tests and physical exams are more common.

      It can be treated with just one injection of penicillin if it's diagnosed within a year.

      Other secondary syphilis symptoms include a fever, weight and hair loss, swollen glands, a headache, extreme fatigue, and muscle aches.

      Sometimes it then enters a latency phase in which the bacterial will remain dormant before the final and most severe stage, which is known as tertiary syphilis.

      That's when syphilis can cause neurological problems, dementia, a stroke, numbness, deafness, heart-valve disease, inflammation of blood vessels, visual problems or blindness, or an aneurysm.

      Most of those contracting syphilis in B.C. are male.
      B.C Centre for Disease Control