Vancouver Coastal Health declares syphilis outbreak in B.C.

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      Vancouver Coastal Health has announced the launch of a formal outbreak response to a 30-year high in syphilis rates in British Columbia.

      “In 2015, nearly 500 cases of infectious syphilis were reported in Vancouver Coastal Health, more than double the yearly cases reported a decade ago,” VCH medical health officer Dr. Réka Gustafson stated in a news release.

      VCH is working together with Positive Living BC, the BC Centre for Disease Control, YouthCO, and Health Initiative for Men will release an awareness campaign with gay sex-positive images on February 14.

      The campaign will include a webpage on the HIM site with information about the disease.

      All men who have sex with men (MSM) are disproportionately affected by the disease.

      Ninety-seven percent of syphilis diagnoses are male and over 90 percent identify as gay, bisexual, or MSM. The largest increase is among 20- to 24-year-old males.

      Syphilis is spread by sexual activity, and increases the risk of an HIV infection. Some infected individuals may have it without exhibiting any symptoms. It can be treated with antibiotics but if untreated, it can result in blindness, hearing loss, bone pain, neurological problems or death.

      Both VCH and BCCDC recommend testing every three to six months, to use condoms, and to report any sores, bumps, rashes, blisters or warts around the genital or anal areas to healthcare providers.

      To find testing clinics or to get tested online, visit Smart Sex Resource or BCCDC's Get Checked Online.

      A decline in 2011 was reported after peaking between 2006 and 2008. However, VCH previously announced a syphilis epidemic in 2013.