Syphilis infections double in Lower Mainland

Sexually transmitted disease making comeback in gay men

Syphilis has been infecting people for centuries. This is one of the earliest known medical illustrations

Syphilis rates in the Lower Mainland have spiked in the past year to the highest levels seen in decades.

The highly contagious sexually transmitted disease, once thought nearly wiped out in B.C., is mainly being seen in men who have sexual contact with other men.

Both the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions report their syphilis case numbers more than doubled from 2011 to 2012.

Vancouver Coastal saw nearly 300 cases last year or 80 per cent of the B.C. total.

Fraser reported 67 in 2012, up from 27 in both 2010 and 2011.

“We’re concerned about the increasing numbers in Fraser even though it’s not as bad as in Vancouver Coastal,” said Dr. Paul Van Buynder, chief medical health officer for the Fraser Health Authority.

Some researchers have pointed to the advent of mobile phone apps for easily organizing anonymous gay sex hookups.

Van Buynder said he’s not convinced that’s the cause of the increase, noting gay or bisexual men seeking casual encounters have always been adept in finding each other.

He is concerned that some men involved shifted to oral rather than anal sex out of a belief it would reduce their risk of HIV infection.

“There was some reduction in the HIV transmission but it actually does nothing to decrease your syphilis risk,” Van Buynder said.

He said the disease is one of the “great mimickers” because its symptoms can often be mistaken for bug bites or rashes, leading those infected to ignore it and spread the bacteria to others.

“I’m concerned that our physicians may not have seen this for a period of time,” he said.

About 80 per cent of new cases are among men who have sex with men – a category that includes both gay and bisexual men as well as other men who don’t identify themselves as such.

Public health officials are urging men in the LBGT community to get tested for syphilis every three to six months and to practice safer sex.

Other symptoms of syphilis include fever, swollen lymph glands and weight loss.

Catching the disease early and treating it with antibiotics is far easier than suffering the untreated consequences – permanent blindness, hearing loss, deep bone pain, neurological problems and even death.

Testing is available at youth clinics, doctor’s offices and other clinics. To find a testing clinic, see www.smartsexresource.com or fraserhealth.ca.

Just Posted

Agassiz Community Gardens hoping to find new home at old McCaffrey school

The society has been looking for a new location since its previous gardens were sold in October

Kent looking to replace Ferny Coombe pool with indoor facility

The facility being built is dependent on grant funding from the province and federal government

Escape room brings ‘out of the box’ activity to Agassiz

AESS alumni and teacher developed the concept to bring teamwork-based entertainment to the town

Prices still rising, Chilliwack real estate back in balanced territory

Local market is steadier compared to points west with higher increase in average sale price

B.C. storm totals $37M in insured damages

The December storm wreaked havoc on B.C.’s south coast

B.C. opioid crisis to get same world-renowned treatment approach as HIV/AIDS

A program that focuses on treatment as prevention will roll out Jan. 17

Vancouver city council endorses free transit for youth

Mayor Kennedy Stewart will write a support letter to TransLink

In limbo: Leftover embryos challenge clinics, couples

Some are outright abandoned by people who quit paying storage fees and other couples struggle with tough decisions

BREAKING: Jury finds man accused of killing B.C. girl, 12, guilty

Twelve-year-old Monica Jack disappeared in May 1978 while riding her bike along a highway in Merritt, B.C.

B.C. government extends coastal log export rules for six months

Premier John Horgan talks forest policy at loggers’ convention

Lower Mainland pup poisoned by pot on dike

Five-month-old River was unable to walk.

B.C. pair accused of ‘honour-killing’ in India to be extradited within days

Malkit Kaur Sidhu and Surjit Singh Badesha are accused of conspiracy to commit murder

Netflix rejects request to remove Lac-Megantic images from ‘Bird Box’

At least two shows on Netflix’s Canadian platform briefly use actual footage of the 2013 tragedy

Liberals reject Karen Wang’s hope for ‘second chance’ in byelection vs. Singh

Former Burnaby South candidate dropped out after a post on the Chinese social media platform WeChat

Most Read