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July 16, 2003

STD Numbers on the Rise

22 cases of syphilis have been identified in Winnipeg since January 2003. This marks a significant increase in the number of cases compared to previous years and is a serious public health concern. The 22 cases have had 61 reported contacts. The majority of cases and contacts have been middle-aged men and women who have met at downtown bars and hotels and are having unprotected sex with unfamiliar partners, while intoxicated. Most of the cases and contacts reside within Winnipeg and have engaged in heterosexual activity. Some of the cases and contacts have travelled outside of the city. Follow-up with these individuals' contacts has not revealed cases outside of the city. Some of the cases have had multiple, anonymous contacts.

WRHA public health staff is experiencing difficulty in persuading some cases and contacts to seek medical attention – that is testing and treatment. There has also been some difficulty in locating all of the 61 contacts. We encourage anyone who has had unprotected sex in circumstances like those described above to get tested for syphilis. We are also launching an awareness campaign using posters, coasters and condom matchbooks that are currently in production. We are working with downtown hotels and bars to distribute these items. We would like to stress that the hotels and bars have only been meeting places for individuals.

Syphilis is a curable sexually transmitted disease. People with syphilis may not have any symptoms - which is why it is important for individuals to get tested if they have had sexual contact outside of a committed relationship, particularly if they did not use a condom. The most common symptoms associated with syphilis include a sore (or sores) on the penis or vagina, or a rash on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.

Numbers of gonorrhea have also been on the rise in Winnipeg, increasing from 260 cases in 1997 to 374 cases in 2002. In the first three months of 2003, 111 cases have been reported. These numbers reflect the trend reported by Health Canada recently, which indicate that gonorrhea numbers across Canada have risen 40% in the past five years.

Gonorrhea is transmitted through sexual contact. Untreated gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women and cause infertility for both men and women, among other effects. Individuals with gonorrhea also may not have symptoms. Symptoms associated with gonorrhea include discharge or pus from the genitals, or vague abdominal cramps.

Individuals who have had/or suspect that they might have had unprotected sex with an unfamiliar partner in the last six months should call: 940-2200 to arrange for a special blood test or see their doctor.

Although, condoms do not always stop the spread of syphilis, individuals participating in sexual activity with unfamiliar partners should also use condoms to help reduce their chance of becoming infected.

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